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The row over future fishing rights has plagued the trade and security negotiations between Britain and the European Union. Hardline member states, led by France’s Emmanuel Macron, have been demanding the same level of access to the UK’s fishing grounds after Brexit. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been adamant that Britain will become an independent coastal nation with the Government controlling access to our waters.
The stand-off has threatened to crash the negotiations with the EU insisting a fisheries agreement remains the price for any wider trade deal.
Olivier Lepretre, chairman of the northern French fishermen’s association, urged the two sides to broker a sensible compromise.
He said: “Boulogne absolutely needs an agreement. We are the largest fishing port in France with a turnover of 450,000 tonnes, including 300,000 tonnes of our own catch. French fishermen need further access to British waters, then the traders and processors come ashore.
“If there was a hard Brexit without an agreement on fish rights, it would be catastrophic.”
The industry chief has claimed 60 to 80 percent of the small boats he represents exclusively fish in British waters.
Mr Lepretre claimed fishermen have already been forced to scale back their operations because of a lack of investment since Brexit.
Losing access to UK fishing grounds would be the final nail in the coffin for many of them, he added.
Federic Cuvillier, the mayor of Boulogne, said more than 5,000 jobs in his region depend on fishing.
“It’s worrying, but we have to keep hoping for an agreement. We need an appeal to reason.”
Any disruption to French fishing activity would ultimately lead to a furious response that could see possible blockades of British products at the port of Calais.
Mr Cuvillier said a no-deal Brexit would mean Britain would take back full control of its fishing waters but leave its trawlermen without a market to export to.
“You can’t make 30 kilometres of maritime border an insurmountable hurdle. Both sides need compromises,” he said.
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“You have the fish, we have the market with over 400 million consumers.”
EU negotiator Michel Barnier has been locked in intensive discussions in Brussels with UK counterpart Lord Frost.
In a downbeat briefing to top eurocrats, the Frenchman today warned disagreements over access to Britain’s coastal waters and common standards were still blocking any significant progress.
European Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis told a news conference there was still “substantial work to do” before any breakthrough can be announced.
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He added: “We are now in the last moments, we have seen many deadlines come and go but there is one we’ll not be able to move and that’s January 1.”
European capitals are keen to find solutions for the main sticking points while negotiators finalise the details of the 80 percent of the Brexit trade deal already agreed.
But France was still refusing to drop its hardline demands for almost the same level of access to Britain’s fishing grounds.
A Brussels source said Paris will block any agreement that doesn’t “preserve the interests of EU fishermen” in UK waters.
President Emmanuel Macron has already torpedoed a compromise offer put forward by Mr Barnier in a bid to break the deadlock.
An EU official described the intensive wrangling over the post-Brexit trade deal as “Groundhog Day” for the bloc.
Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg
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