Brexit talks must focus on level playing field ‘sticking point’ not fisheries, MEP warns

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Brexit negotiations have found in fisheries a key point of contention as they seek to establish the terms of the future trading relationship between the UK and the European Union. Both sides have been unrelenting on access to British waters at the end of the transition period, sparking concerns fisheries could sink the chances of striking a deal. But Belgian MEP Philippe Lamberts demanded both sides move away from the “symbolic” issue of fishing to focus on preventing unfair competition once the transition period ends.

Asked about the main sticking points in the negotiations between London and Brussels, Mr Lamberts told Bloomberg: “It’s not fish.

“Fish is, of course, symbolically big but economically small. The real thing is about the level playing field and the way you enforce it.

“So it’s the governance aspect linked with the level playing field provisions.

“It’s a major sticking point because the United Kingdom doesn’t want to be forced to align to EU legislation but, on the other hand, if it wants to keep access to the single market it has to follow EU legislation. How do you do that without the hard Brexiteers losing face? That’s the whole question.”

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Mr Lamberts conceded a deal remains possible to strike but said an agreement has to be found by mid-November to allow all national Parliaments, as well as the European Parliament, to rubber-stamp it.

He insisted he and other MEPs are planning to back any deal negotiated by EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, noting only significant changes to the mandate would keep them from voting in favour.

The Belgian MEP continued: “We have had no surprises from his side and, since he consults with the European Parliament, there will be no surprises.

“So I guess the deal will be approved by the European Union unless, of course, we have surprises in terms of concessions made by the EU negotiators that would be unpalatable.”

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Chances of a no deal scenario had been put at over 50 percent after Boris Johnson said negotiations were “over” at the end of the ninth round of talks earlier this month.

But as Brussels renewed its commitment to maintaining trade arrangements with the UK, Michel Barnier and his counterpart Lord Frost agreed to additional talks.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said discussions on the legal text set ti underpin a deal are now being held for the first time since the start of the talks.

He said: “There is much work to be done if we are going to bridge the ‘significant’ gaps that remain between our positions in the most difficult areas – and time is very short.

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“We are in an intensive phase of the talks. There’s significant work to do to bridge the gaps that remain between the two sides.”

However, French President Emmanuel Macron has continued to be immovable from his demands for sweeping fishing rights for his fleet.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is now being urged to intervene to placate her EU ally into allowing Mr Barnier to proceed with the negotiations without additional pressure on the issue of fisheries.

The Prime Minister has been forced to dismiss claims suggesting he will be waiting for the results of the US Presidential Election next week before settling on his next move on Brexit.

Mr Johnson said the two issues are “entirely separate” and the Government will “see where we go” as the talks continue.

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