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The Prime Minister’s negotiators with Brussels are under strict orders “not to depart” from his promise to deliver a significant increase in fishing opportunities for UK boats. Downing Street fired a warning to the bloc after Michel Barnier suggested British officials offered a number of concessions during last week’s wrangling over a post-Brexit trade deal. The Brussels bureaucrat told a private meeting of European diplomats Lord Frost made a “tentative” move towards the bloc’s demand for the same level of access to UK waters as it has under the Common Fisheries Policy, a source said.
But a Government spokesman hit back: “We have consistently said that we will not accept any proposals which compromise UK sovereignty over our own fishing waters.
“There has not and will not be a departure from Britain’s position so far that will take back control of its territorial waters in the Channel next year.
“The UK’s draft UK-EU fisheries framework agreement draft text is based on the EU’s existing bilateral arrangement with Norway, the most relevant precedent for relationships between two independent coastal states, as outlined in our approach.”
It was said Lord Frost, the Prime Minister’s Brexit envoy, floated plans to hand exemptions to EU fishing boats operating around the Channel islands, including Jersey and Guernsey, from the new restrictions introduced as part of the future relationship pact.
EU sources said UK negotiators had also proposed a “phasing-out mechanism” that would see Britain’s fishing quotas increase over time, rather than immediately after the transition period expires at the end of the year.
A Brussels source said: “The UK definitely seems to be coming around on this, they seem to be moving cautiously towards some opening on fisheries in the technical talks.”
Michael Gove floated a similar concept to a House of Commons committee earlier this year, insisting the UK doesn’t want a “dramatic cliff-edge” for EU fishermen.
The Cabinet Office minister said the Government had no intention to “turn off the light automatically” for European vessels after December 31.
Mr Johnson has repeatedly insisted Britain will become an “independent coastal nation” after its post-Brexit transition from EU rules.
The bloc’s refusal to budge from its hardline demands to maintain status quo access to the UK’s fishing grounds remains a huge sticking point in the trade negotiations, Lord Frost has briefed the Prime Minister.
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The Tory Peer believes the bloc still does not respect the country’s claim of coastal sovereignty because of the expected hit to Europe’s fishing industry after Brexit.
His camp claims Mr Barnier has so far blocked talks draft fisheries proposals until the Government makes concessions on how much fish European boats can catch in British waters.
The Frenchman will hold informal talks with Lord Frost in Brussels on Thursday ahead of the next formal round of negotiations later this month.
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Meanwhile, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen accused Boris Johnson of putting “trust and good faith” at risk with his plans to rip up the Withdrawal Agreement.
She said: “The European Union and United Kingdom jointly agreed it was the best, and only way, for ensuring peace on the island of Ireland.
“We will never backtrack on that. This agreement has been ratified by this house and the House of Commons. It cannot be unilaterally changed, disregarded or disapplied. It is a matter of law, trust and good faith.”
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