Give us what we want or WE’LL walk away! France threatens no deal over fishing standoff
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Europe minister Clement Beaune insisted Britain would have to make “sufficient movement” before any agreement is acceptable to the European Union. His intervention came after Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, arrived in London for one final push in the wrangling over a post-Brexit trade deal. But Ireland claimed an agreement is still “doable” despite the short time available to both sides to find a compromise after their week-long standoff.
Mr Beaune, a close ally of President Emmanuel Macron, said the EU27 would decide to stage their own walkout next week if Britain refused to budge in the negotiations over a future relationship pact.
He told French television: “We thought the end of October was the final deadline. We are giving ourselves a few more days to give the negotiations a chance, but we need to know quickly.
“Michel Barnier has several days ahead of him where he is going to negotiate and then he will talk to us. He is going to tell the head of state and government of the EU27: ‘Here is a deal, and I think it is a good one’ – and then we have to evaluate it.
“Or: ‘I think the British have not shown sufficient movement to reach an agreement that protects our interests and then it’s no deal.’”
Mr Beaune hinted the UK was bluffing about whether to go for no deal in order to secure concessions from the EU.
“If the British thought they could live with the ‘freedom’ of no deal outside the EU, if it was so easy and so comfortable, they would have already left without a deal,” he said.
The key sticking points in the trade talks remain fishing rights, the enforcement of any deal and common standards, including controls over state subsidies for businesses.
Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said the two sides overcoming their differences is “doable but difficult” before the end of the post-Brexit transition period, on December 31.
He said: “The pressure is on. We’re running out of time.
“What we have now is a much more intense period of negotiation in an effort to try to find middle-ground positions that both sides can accept.”
But in a warning to Irish businesses, he urged them to prepare for the “very real risk” of a no-deal Brexit.
Mr Coveney said firms should not assume that just because the EU-UK talks had been intensified that the major stumbling blocks had gone away.
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He warned: “Fishing is still a really, really difficult issue to resolve and both sides are miles apart.”
Several of the EU’s coastal states, including France, Denmark and Spain, are pushing to secure the same level of access to British waters for the bloc’s fishermen.
And the divisions over the so-called “level playing field” are “not an easy issue to resolve”, Mr Coveney added.
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He insisted the EU “will never sign up” to an agreement that allows Downing Street to “deregulate its economy to use state aid to competitive advantage” for UK firms.
The Irish minister urged both sides to de-dramatise the key sticking point because it had become a “toxic term in British politics.
“The British Government needs to understand that while they have political challenges to finalise a deal in terms of domestic politics, the EU also has very legitimate concerns here that have got to be accommodated if there is going to be a deal,” he said.
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