French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said France will do everything it can to ensure Britain gives guarantees to French fishermen in Brexit talks during an interview with a local newspaper, Le Telegramme. Fishing is particularly politically sensitive for France, who fishing industry relies heavily on British waters. Mr Le Drian, who is from the coastal region of Brittany, reiterated France’s determination to defend access to British waters for French fisherman during talks over Britain’s future relationship with the EU.
He said: “There is a major issue: the access for our fishermen to British waters in conditions that are as close as possible to the existing ones.
“And I can assure you that I will be make sure that London guarantees them visibility, continuity in technical standards and the access they need.”
Britain has repeatedly stated that, following Brexit and as a newly independent coastal state, it wants to be in control of its waters and fish.
There are fears in France of a major surrender from the EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier in what would be the first major concession from the bloc in talks on their new relationship after the UK finally unshackles itself from the bloc.
Brexit talks came to an end on Friday and tense arguments remain over fishing rights.
European fishing vessels fish six times as much in UK waters as British vessels do in EU waters, which means the UK has leverage in the talks.
France has warned it will do everything it can do guarantee rights for French fishermen
Brexit talks have been marred by disagreements over fishing
On Friday, EU and British negotiators admitted they had made very little progress in their latest round of talks about a Brexit free trade agreement, with just weeks left to extend a year-end deadline to reach a deal.
Both sides laid out plans to intensify negotiations and pleaded for a renewed political push when their leaders assess the situation later in June.
Britain left the EU in January. Their relationship is now governed by a transition arrangement that keeps previous rules in place while they negotiate new terms. So far, this has not gone well.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier told a news conference: “This week, there have been no significant areas of progress. We cannot go on like this forever.”
France wants access to UK waters after Brexit
He said the EU and Britain remained far apart on the issues of fair competition guarantees and the governance of their new relationship, as well as fishing rights.
But Britain and the EU will continue talks on a post-Brexit trade deal despite the latest round of negotiations failing to break the deadlock.
The UK’s chief negotiator David Frost said they would have to “intensify and accelerate” the process if there was to be any chance of an agreement.
The talks had been intended to lay the ground for a high-level summit later this month to take stock of progress.
However both sides suggested the unwieldy system of remote meetings – agreed because of the coronavirus outbreak – had reached its limit and that officials would need to start meeting again face to face if they were to move forward.
Britain has said it wants control of its waters after Brexit
Fishing is particularly politically sensitive for France, who fishing industry relies heavily on British waters
Speaking at a press conference in Brussels, Mr Barnier said he hoped arrangements could be in place by the end of the month.
He said: “I think it will work better, it’ll be more effective and easier.”
British officials said they remained confident the high-level meeting would still go ahead although a date has yet to be agreed.
It is expected the summit – by video call – will involve Boris Johnson, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, European Council president Charles Michel and possibly the president of the European Parliament, David-Maria Sassoli.
British officials had previously indicated they regarded June as an “inflection point” in the talks, but a senior member of the negotiating team acknowledged the coronavirus outbreak meant there would be some delay.
However he insisted the talks could not be allowed to drag on into the autumn without clear evidence that a deal was possible.
EU countries most reliant on UK fishing waters
The official said: “We are not up for a long negotiation over the next months well into the autumn where nobody knows what is going to happen. October is too late for us to conclude this.
“We need to work intensively now and into July to see if we can find the high-level trade-offs that unlock a deal within all our important negotiating parameters.”
As it stands, Britain will leave the EU single market when the current Brexit transition period comes to an end at the end of the year with nothing to replace it unless a deal is agreed.
Mr Barnier said the “door is still open” for the UK to seek an extension to the transition period to allow more time for negotiations to continue – something which Mr Johnson has repeatedly ruled out.
However the EU negotiator again accused the British side of backtracking on commitments made in the political declaration signed last year by the Prime Minister – including on continued access to UK fisheries.
He said: “We cannot and will not accept this backtracking on the political declaration.”
British officials acknowledged that they had a “slightly different interpretation” of the declaration, which they said was meant to set the “parameters” for the negotiations.