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Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier made a last-minute dash to London on Thursday night in a desperate bid to salvage trade talks with his UK counterpart David Frost. Fishing remains the outstanding obstacle to any agreement, along with EU demands for a “level-playing field” on the competition.
The Brussels’ chief has been under mounting pressure from leading EU fishing nations, including France, to enable the same access to the UK’s rich fishing territory once Britain leaves the Common Fisheries Policy on January 1, 2021.
Britain was left unflustered following the EU Council Summit last week, where Emmanuel Macron warned there would be no deal trade deal unless an agreement was reached on fishing,
The French President did, however, say he was willing to reach a “good settlement” with the UK.
Barrie Deas, CEO of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO), has insisted Brussels’ has now finally understood the position of the UK and predicts a climbdown is imminent from the EU.
The NFFO represents fishermen in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and Mr Deas has described the mood in the bloc as “gaunt” amongst its leading figures.
He told Express.co.uk: “We see no sign that the UK will cave in on fisheries.
“The UK’s sovereign rights as an independent coastal state are regarded by the Government as sacrosanct.
“On the other hand, there are signs that Michel Barnier, Angela Merkel and even President Macron recognise that they are gaunt to have to give ground on fisheries.”
Ahead of further talks with Lord Frost, Mr Barnier stressed the onus was on both sides to find a way of securing an agreement.
Upon his arrival in the capital wearing a facemask with an EU-flag, Mr Barnier said: “It’s very important to be back at the table.
“We have a huge common responsibility. Every day counts.”
Downing Street has downplayed the significance of Mr Barnier travelling to the UK for further discussions.
Number 10 insisted “significant gaps” remain and warned it was “entirely possible that negotiations will not succeed”.
Outstanding issues also remain over state aid and governance, and earlier this week, Mr Macron claimed the sides are “stumbling over everything”.
He said: “The state of our talks is not that we are stumbling over the issue of fishing, which is the tactical argument made by the British, but we’re stumbling over everything.”
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Ahead of the discussions, a spokeswoman for Mr Frost said: “We have jointly agreed a set of principles for handling this intensified phase of talks.
“It is clear that significant gaps remain between our positions in the most difficult areas, but we are ready, with the EU, to see if it is possible to bridge them in intensive talks.
The latest round of negotiations is scheduled to continue over the weekend before concluding on Sunday October 25.
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