Meddling Sturgeon attacked over secret EU and SNP talks as Brexit deal at crunch point

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Express.co.uk understands EU officials in Brussels have held informal discussions with counterparts in Edinburgh concerning matters including fishing. It comes as both Scotland and the EU reacted furiously to the Government’s controversial UK Internal Market Bill, which prompted threats of legal action from Brussels if it was not changed by the end of the month.

The most recent round of negotiations between the UK and EU resumed this week with fisheries and the so-called level-playing field among the items on the agenda as time runs out on the transition period.

Express.co.uk has learned the Scottish Government has become increasingly concerned with Westminster over its approach to EU negotiations.

An official said that Westminster does not seem to want to discuss EU matters, stressing a no deal is in “no one’s interest”.

“We seek to have productive discussions with all people,” one said.

The SNP administration at Edinburgh is also concerned that Scotland’s fisheries have “no clarity” about future arrangements, warning that “successive Westminster governments have sold out Scotland’s fishing industry”.

In reference to fears of Scotland’s industry being sold out, Fergus Ewing MSP, Scotland’s Rural Affairs Secretary, warned there had been “no indications the Tory government wouldn’t be prepared to do so again.”

But Dean Lockhart MSP, Scottish Conservatives Constitution spokesperson, told Express.co.uk: “We heard recently how the SNP had attempted to undermine negotiations regarding our vital fishing industry during talks with the European Union.

“Now we hear they have held further talks at a time when negotiations are at a critical point.

 

“The SNP have continued to try and overplay their hand when it is the UK Government who are leading the negotiations and working to secure the best deal for the whole of the United Kingdom.”

But Whitehall rebuffed tonight with a source saying: “We want to achieve the best outcome for the whole of the UK and are negotiating with the EU.

“As part of this, we are constantly working with the Devolved Administrations.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said they had not had discussions directly with Barnier himself but added: “The Scottish Government will always stand up for Scotland’s interests.  

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“We remain extremely concerned about the “no deal or low deal” approach being taken by the UK Government, which clearly goes against the interests of the Scottish seafood sector and our coastal communities, and puts at risk almost £700 million of seafood exports to the EU.”

It comes as Lord Frost unveiled a new plan to try to secure a breakthrough in talks where the EU would be offered a three-year transition period to allow European boats to prepare for changes.

Under the proposals, fishing opportunities for EU vessels would be “phased down” between 2021 and 2024 to offer coastal communities time to adapt to the changes.

The plans were presented as an eleventh-hour attempt by Lord Frost to break the Brexit deadlock. 

 

Fishing access has been a contentious issue throughout Brexit discussions between the UK and EU.

Mr Johnson’s spokesman insisted the government will not accept any measures that compromise UK control over its waters.

“The sort of agreement we are looking for is the sort of agreement which the EU has with Norway,” he said.

“Our position in relation to fishing and access to our fishing waters has been very clear from the outset.”

A European Diplomatic Source said: “We have a long way to go but if the other problematic issues can be sorted, it doesn’t look like fisheries will stand in the way of the agreement.”

Meanwhile, the government was warned it must face down EU demands for the same level of access.

Elspeth Macdonald, Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive, said the Common Fisheries Policy has given away the majority of fish in UK waters “for the benefit of the EU fleet” over the last 40 years.

Ms Macdonald said “we are now very close to being able to right that wrong” and warned it is “imperative at this crucial stage that the UK remains steadfast”.

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