British PM and EU Commission President met over a phone call this evening to discuss the stalemate in EU-UK negotiations
This evening, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen over a phone call to discuss the current stalemate of the EU-UK Trade Negotiations and issued the following joint statement afterwards.
“As agreed on Saturday, we took stock today of the ongoing negotiations. We agreed that the conditions for finalising an agreement are not there due to the significant differences on the three critical issues: level playing field, governance, and fisheries.
“We asked our Chief Negotiators and their teams to prepare an overview of the remaining differences to be discussed in a physical meeting in Brussels in the coming days”.
It is thought that there will be no agreement reached by Wednesday’s deadline as set-out by Michel Barnier today when he met with EU ambassadors. Significant divergences still remain on the ‘level-playing field’ and governance, but it was thought the UK had made a proposal to the EU negotiators on fisheries.
According to sources, the proposal being offered would see pelagic fisheries and demersal fisheries dealt with as two separate negotiating portfolios.
Demersal fisheries would be dealt with in the current negotiations and pelagic fisheries would be dealt with through the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC).
The proposal being offered would see the separation of the rich pelagic fishing from the Brexit negotiations and instead the stocks would be dealt with through an informal forum bringing together independent coastal states as Norway, the Faroe Islands, Russia and Greenland.
UK sources say this separation of fish stocks would simplify the fisheries talks, which have been deadlocked for months, by removing one element and having it dealt with in another forum.
The EU is wary of allowing the UK to move negotiations on pelagic fisheries to the NEAFC forum as the UK will have vastly greater leverage in the NEAFC when it joins on 01 January 2021. This is due to the size of the mackerel fisheries that takes place in UK waters around the Shetland.
Some of the concerns the EU has also centres around the actions of Iceland, who have for a decade now, not participated in the Commission but instead have been setting their own quotas for mackerel TACs despite objections from one of their major trading partners, the EU themselves. The EU fears that the UK could revert to a similar action.
The development reflects deepening divisions over the fisheries issue in the free trade agreement negotiations. One EU official described the move as “very concerning”.
UK sources have also rejected suggestions that there was plans in place to re-nationalise the UK fleet by placing conditions on foreign ownership of British vessels. That issue was mentioned by Michel Barnier during this morning’s briefing of EU ambassadors. There are many advocates in the UK for a policy to return UK fishing into the hands of British ownership. In 1990 the European Court of Justice struck down a UK law which required majority British ownership of any vessels that were registered in the UK. The Factortame case was taken by a group of Spanish trawler owners who complained the requirement was contrary to EU law. Now that the UK will be a sovereign country, EU rulings will no longer apply and the British Government is free to implement whatever restrictions on fishing vessel ownership the deem appropriate.