A ‘No Deal’ scenario in talks on a post-Brexit trade agreement was still suggested as the most likely one on Sunday, with Brussels reluctant to change its mind on maintaining rights to most of the catch from UK fishing waters, and France prepared to offer Britain “a few more days to reach an agreement that respects our priorities and red lines”.
In an effort to break the stalemate over a crucial post-Brexit trade deal with the EU, Britain has tabled a compromise proposal on the principal remaining sticking point – fishing, reports The Times.
The offer is suggested as potentially able to break the deadlock over a compensation mechanism if fishing quotas for the European Union’s fleet in a phased transition are drastically cut.
As Britain’s transition period (set for 31 December) draws near, negotiations between the two sides have bogged down on the issue of access to UK fishing waters for European trawlers. The new offer is claimed to be a significant concession on the part of the British side to the bloc’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier.
‘Compromise’ Fishing Deal
The new proposals are believed to offer a way to resolve the three key points of disagreement on fishing: the length of transition from the current quota shares in UK waters to new quota shares; the amount of quota share for European trawlers in Britain’s waters at the end of the transition; and dispute settlement if at some point in the future the quota share changed or the sides failed to reach agreement over access to waters.
The new proposals would reportedly allow the European Union to retain approximately two thirds of the value of fish, worth €650 million, ($794 million) that European boats currently catch in British waters.
It is believed that a transition period of five years would be installed to mitigate fallout from the changes.
According to the outlet, while the UK starting offer on the fish value quotas was 40 per cent, while Michel Barnier drove a hard bargain, demanding 75.
Arbitration could be resorted to in resolving all arising disputes in the future, according to the offer drawn up by Raoul Ruparel, a former Downing Street special adviser on Europe under ex-Prime Minister Theresa May, and published by POLITICO.
“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,” writes Ruparel.
As Brussels has been demanding a ‘review clause’ if reductions in fishing quotas were seen as going too far, allowing the bloc to suspend free trade in retaliation and slam tariffs on businesses, Ruparel’s offer also presupposes a termination clause.
According to cited EU sources, the compensation mechanism, arbitration for dispute resolution and review clause have been acknowledged as potentially breakthrough suggestions.
However, the percentage of fish by value is seen as unlikely to satisfy Brussels, and is reportedly to be increased over the coming days.
According to the outlet, both UK and EU sources claim fishing quotas worth less than €100 million could become pivotal to the future of any trade deal talks.
As time is fast running out, both camps have been under increasing pressure to meet each other halfway.
Downing Street hopes for a trade deal to be ratified in Parliament between Christmas and New Year, while the deadline for ratification by MEPs passed on 20 December.
Amid increased uncertainty whether last-ditch talks on trade, security or fisheries could result in a deal that might enter into force on 1 January, the European parliament has requested that emergency tactics be drawn up by 24 December, outlining a plan of action if negotiations continue until the end of the Brexit transition cutoff date – 31 December.
Manfred Weber, a German MEP who leads the European People’s Party, was quoted as saying:
“We will remain constructive partners. Alternative procedures are possible. Council and commission will have to find a way forward.”
The UK and EU talks have been at loggerheads for months, seeking to hammer out a post-Brexit trade deal.
Differences over fishing quotas, the so-called “level-playing field” and governance have hampered any breakthrough, and with the looming deadline for the transition period, a “No Deal” scenario has been suggested as the most likely by major UK media outlets, citing government sources.
If no deal is reached before the end of the year, the WTO rules take immediate effect as of 1 January, including customs tariffs and full border checks for UK goods crossing the English Channel.
MPs have been warning that food prices may skyrocket as a result of Downing Street’s plans to restrict UK producers’ access to European Union workers, who account for most staff in sectors such as meat processing and crop picking, according to the Commons environment, food and rural affairs select committee.
Visas will be issued after 31 December under a pilot scheme for seasonal agricultural workers. According to the committee, aspects of the new system were vague, rendering it “difficult for businesses to plan”.
Neil Parish, the committee’s Conservative chairman, was quoted as saying: “By leaving its plans vague and not having the proper figures to hand, the government is effectively turning off the tap for employers, without giving them time to adapt.”