When we said the Brexit talks were finished, what we meant was ‘see you Thursday’: Michel Barnier arrives back in London to tell diplomats he ‘isn’t worried about anything else but fish’
- Post-Brexit trade talks between the UK and the EU resumed in London today
- Talks restarted after the UK accepted an olive branch from EU’s Michel Barnier
- Standoff ended after EU admitted there needs to be ‘compromises on both sides’
- EU officials privately believe Boris Johnson’s threat to walk away was ‘theatrics’
- Mr Barnier said to have told diplomats fishing rights now only major blockage
Michel Barnier has told EU diplomats that a disagreement over post-Brexit fishing rights is now the only major stumbling block to agreeing a trade deal with the UK, it was claimed today.
The EU’s chief negotiator is said to have told a private briefing in Brussels on Wednesday evening that he ‘wasn’t worried about anything else but fish’.
A diplomat who took part in the briefing told Reuters that ‘fish is now the thing to tackle’ and the ‘other elements seem doable, more or less’.
The comments will increase hopes of a deal being agreed between the two sides by mid-November as formal negotiations resumed in London today, bringing to an end a stand off which lasted for a week.
Negotiations were paused by Boris Johnson on Friday last week after the EU refused to budge and he formally triggered preparations for a no trade deal split.
But an olive branch from Mr Barnier was yesterday accepted by Downing Street as he finally admitted there needs to be ‘compromises on both sides’.
The talks restarted against a backdrop of claims that the EU never actually believed the Prime Minister was serious about walking away from the negotiating table.
Michel Barnier is said to have told diplomats on Wednesday night that post-Brexit fishing rights is now the only major stumbling block to the EU and UK agreeing a trade deal
Formal trade talks resumed today amid claims that the EU’s negotiating strategy is to make it appear that Boris Johnson has won so he can sell the deal to hardline Tory Brexiteers
EU officials told Bloomberg they were relaxed about Mr Johnson’s tough talk because they believed it was necessary for him to be able to sell a deal to hardline Tory Brexiteers.
Figures in Brussels were said to have viewed the decision to pause the talks as ‘theatrics’, with the bloc apparently now focused on how it can help Mr Johnson to get an agreement over the line with his Eurosceptic MPs.
One senior diplomat said the EU cares more about getting a deal than being seen to have won the negotiations.
The two sides are expected to hold intensive talks in London until Sunday with mid-November now seen as a potential landing spot for a deal to be agreed.
That would give both sides just enough time to ratify and implement the agreement before the end of the post-Brexit standstill transition period in December.
Number 10 would not be drawn on a specific negotiating deadline this lunchtime but said ‘time is now very short’ and ‘an agreement needs to be in place before the end of the transition period’.
The EU has agreed to intensify the talks – a key UK demand – with negotiations expected to take place almost every day and over weekends in the coming weeks.
Discussions have been deadlocked in recent months on the crunch issues of post-Brexit fishing rights, the so-called ‘level playing field’ on EU rules and on governance of the deal.
But Mr Barnier’s reported comments from last night’s briefing suggest that fishing is now the only major hurdle to a deal being done.
There are fears that Emmanuel Macron’s hardline stance on the issue could yet sink the entire talks as he sticks to his demand that French fishermen maintain their current levels of access to British waters.
Downing Street is adamant that UK trawlers will be given priority access after the end of the transition period.
Number 10 announced yesterday afternoon that Britain was ‘ready to welcome the EU team to London to resume negotiations’ after almost a week of discussions being on hold.
The Government said while ‘significant gaps remain’ between the two sides ‘in the most difficult areas’ it is willing ‘to see if it is possible to bridge them in intensive talks’.
However, Number 10 also warned ‘it takes two to reach an agreement’ and it is ‘entirely possible that negotiations will not succeed’.
The decision to restart formal trade negotiations came after Mr Barnier finally admitted there will have to be ‘compromises on both sides’ for a deal to be agreed.
He told the European Parliament he believed an ‘agreement is within reach’ but warned ‘time is running out’ as the clock ticks down to the end of the transition period.