Is Frost really buckling to the EU over fishing? How UK just made a very clever move

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Before yesterday the future relationship negotiations were at a complete standstill with both sides refusing to move from their respective positions in the battle over future access to Britain’s fishing waters. Sensing his gruelling efforts to find an agreement could fall apart over fishing quotas worth less than £91 million, Lord Frost floated a significant compromise in talks with his EU counterpart Michel Barnier. The proposal would see British fishermen reclaim 35 per cent of the value of fish, worth around £590 million, that European boats now catch in our waters.

Mr Barnier, who is under pressure from hardline EU coastal states to secure near-parity access to UK fishing grounds, would be able to claim he has maintained about two thirds of the European fleet’s access.

The Brussels diplomat was previously pushing for 75 percent, with Britain’s starting offer was at 40 percent.

Lord Frost’s latest offer, if accepted by the EU, would hand Britain’s fishing industry a much-needed £207 million boost after years of misery living under the Common Fisheries Policy.

An analysis by Matt Bevington, of the UK in a Changing Europe think-tank, shows the new quota offer would ensure 72 percent of fish by value caught in our waters would be netted by British boats.

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Under the EU’s CFP arrangements, they receive far less than the amounts currently being discussed at the negotiating table in Brussels.

But more importantly, Lord Frost sees his move at key in delivering on Boris Johnson’s promise to become an independent coastal state after the end of the transition period in nine days.

The UK Brexit envoy tabled the compromise under the proviso Mr Barnier agrees to back down in other areas of the agreement.

One of the most contentious issues is a transition period to phase in the post-Brexit arrangements for fishing.

Brussels was initially pushing for a 10-year term, while Britain’s opening gambit was for three years as a cushion for the changes.

But the two sides could meet in the middle ground with a five-year transition period, which is considered acceptable under international laws.

And the final, and most difficult, issue to overcome was the EU’s insistence on a mechanism to compensate for future reductions in fishing quotas.

The bloc is demanding a review clause that could suspend free trade altogether, slapping Britain with punitive tariffs costing hundreds of billions.

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But Lord Frost’s lower demands on fish quotas could pave the way to a new, softer mechanism that wouldn’t allow Brussels to disproportionately punish Britain for closing its coastal waters.

EU and UK negotiators recognise this as the toughest issue to bridge and one that the entire post-Brexit trade deal could collapse around.

Raoul Ruparel, a former special adviser in Downing Street, set out a plan for future disputes to be settled via an joint arbitration panel.

“In a scenario where the EU quota share is reduced from the levels agreed at the end of the transition, an independent arbitration panel would determine the economic cost of that loss to the EU and allow the EU to levy tariffs in other areas beyond fishing to compensate,” he wrote on the Politico website.

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Brussels was previously considering unilateral measures to impose tariffs on Britain if future negotiations over fishing opportunities ended in an unsatisfactory outcome for the bloc.

Mr Ruparel’s proposal would also include a termination clause, that would allow the EU to notify that the agreement will be abandoned if reductions in fishing quotas go too far.

He added: “If in future, the UK attempted to cut the EU’s quota share in UK waters too far, the EU would always retain the right to notify termination of the agreement (which would likely trigger negotiations on all issues including fish).

“Through these mechanisms, a link between fishing and the wider agreement is retained without creating huge levels of uncertainty every time fish is re-discussed.”

While some Brexiteers bemoan the concessions, they would allow Prime Minister Mr Johnson to deliver on his ultimate goals of handing a substantial increase of fishing opportunities to British boats while also taking back control of our waters.

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