British prime minister Boris Johnson called both French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Angela Merkel this weekend to discuss how to break the impasse on the contentious issue of fishing rights post-Brexit ahead of an important meeting of European Union leaders on Thursday.
Johnson’s office said in a statement that the prime minister told Merkel on Sunday (11 September) that “progress must be made in the coming days to bridge the significant gaps, in particular in the areas of fisheries and the level playing field, through the process of intensive talks between chief negotiators.”
The UK has just under three months to seal off trade talks with the EU to avoid a no-deal Brexit.
The EU is the UK’s largest trading partner. A no-deal scenario means that the UK would immediately leave the EU with no agreement about the "divorce" process, meaning there would be no set rules around key items to keep the economy running — such as trade.
Johnson said at the weekend that “while achieving a deal in the coming days would be beneficial for both sides, the UK was also prepared to end the transition period on Australia-style terms.”
It should be noted that the EU does not have a free-trade deal with Australia — it trades with Australia under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
In his call with Macron, Johnson also stressed the “significant gaps” between both sides in the talks, and said, according to his spokesman, that "a deal was better for both sides, but also that the UK was prepared to end the transition period on Australia-style terms if an agreement could not be found.”
Johnson is pushing for a trade deal to be finalised by this Thursday, 15 October. The deal then needs to be ratified by all EU member states, as the UK will finally leave the bloc at the end of the year.
However, the issue of fishing rights for EU countries in UK waters has been deadlocked for months — it the UK is to be able to sell fish into the EU, in turn the EU wants its own fleets to be able to have some access to British waters. This is part of the overall “level playing field” that should ensure fair competition.
The Financial Times reported that EU leaders will insist at the summit on Thursday that there are tough enforcement rules in place to ensure that the UK abides by its level-playing-field commitments after it has left the EU, including the EU’s right to take swift retaliatory action if the UK reneges.