Boris Johnson has lowered his Brexit demands by asking EU fishing fleets to hand over up to 60% of the value of stocks it takes from British waters, but the gap with Brussels remains wide, Michel Barnier has said ahead of what he described as a crucial 36 hours.
In briefings to EU ambassadors and MEPs in Brussels, the bloc’s chief negotiator said Downing Street had revised its demand down from 80%, but that it was unclear whether the divide could be bridged in the time remaining, prompting member states to caution against rushing into a deal.
The EU has so far offered the repatriation of 15%-18% of the value of stocks caught in the Channel, Irish Sea and north-east Atlantic, a proposal dismissed as “derisory” by Downing Street.
On the “level playing field” provisions, Barnier said common ground was slowly being found, with the UK offering greater flexibility in recent days over a mechanism to ensure that neither side can gain a competitive advantage by deregulating over time.
Speaking in front of EU representatives via videoconference from London, Barnier said some progress was also being made in giving Brussels assurances that future domestic subsidies by the UK government, known as state aid, would not distort trade once the transition period ends on 31 December
But there remain issues over whether a domestic regulator will give prior approval for subsidies and what unilateral remedies will be available in the event of a dispute.
“Barnier said the coming hours were going to be decisive to which the response was, ‘What’s the rush?’” said one senior EU diplomat. “Ambassadors for every country bordering the UK – 11 all in all – raised concerns on the level playing field and suggested that he was at the edge of his negotiating mandate.”
The EU ambassadors also urged Barnier not to allow fishing to become the last issue on the table for fear of pressure at the last moment, enabling the UK to run away with a deal damaging to the European fishing industry.
Barnier said the UK demand for annual negotiations on catches could be conceded, but that there would have to be a means to put tariffs on certain stocks if access was denied to EU boats.
Negotiators were also looking at including a review clause for the whole deal so that terms could be renegotiated in time, but a number of ambassadors spoke out against the proposal. “The EU wants a stable deal, not something that is going to be rewritten in a few years,” a source said.
Barnier told the ambassadors he would return to brief them on Friday, and emphasised the importance of progress during the talks in London in the next two days.
(January 31, 1961) Brefusal
The French president, Charles de Gaulle, vetoes Britain’s entry to EEC, accusing the UK of a “deep-seated hostility” towards the European project.
(January 31, 1973) Brentry
With Sir Edward Heath having signed the accession treaty the previous year, the UK enters the EEC in an official ceremony complete with a torch-lit rally, dickie-bowed officials and a procession of political leaders, including former prime ministers Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home.
(January 31, 1975) Referendum
The UK decides to stay in the common market after 67% voted "yes". Margaret Thatcher, later to be leader of the Conservative party, campaigned to remain.
(January 31, 1984) 'Give us our money back'
Margaret Thatcher negotiated what became known as the UK rebate with other EU members after the "iron lady" marched into the former French royal palace at Fontainebleau to demand “our own money back” claiming for every £2 contributed we get only £1 back” despite being one of the “three poorer” members of the community.
It was a move that sowed the seeds of Tory Euroscepticism that was to later cause the Brexit schism in the party.
(January 31, 1988) The Bruges speech
Thatcher served notice on the EU community in a defining moment in EU politics in which she questioned the expansionist plans of Jacques Delors, who had remarked that 80% of all decisions on economic and social policy would be made by the European Community within 10 years with a European government in “embryo”. That was a bridge too far for Thatcher.
(January 31, 1989) The cold war ends
Collapse of Berlin wall and fall of communism in eastern Europe, which would later lead to expansion of EU.
(January 31, 1990) 'No, no, no'
Divisions between the UK and the EU deepened with Thatcher telling the Commons in an infamous speech it was ‘no, no, no’ to what she saw as Delors’ continued power grab. Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper ratchets up its opposition to Europe with a two-fingered “Up yours Delors” front page.
(January 31, 1992) Black Wednesday
A collapse in the pound forced prime minister John Major and the then chancellor Norman Lamont to pull the UK out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism.
(January 31, 1993) The single market
On 1 January, customs checks and duties were removed across the bloc. Thatcher hailed the vision of “a single market without barriers – visible or invisible – giving you direct and unhindered access to the purchasing power of over 300 million of the world’s wealthiest and most prosperous people".
(January 31, 1993) Maastricht treaty
Tory rebels vote against the treaty that paved the way for the creation of the European Union. John Major won the vote the following day in a pyrrhic victory.
(January 31, 1997) Repairing the relationship
Tony Blair patches up the relationship. Signs up to social charter and workers' rights.
(January 31, 1999) Ukip
Nigel Farage elected an MEP and immediately goes on the offensive in Brussels. “Our interests are best served by not being a member of this club,” he said in his maiden speech. “The level playing field is about as level as the decks of the Titanic after it hit an iceberg.”
(January 31, 2003) The euro
Chancellor Gordon Brown decides the UK will not join the euro.
(January 31, 2004)
EU enlarges to to include eight countries of the former eastern bloc including Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
(January 31, 2007)
EU expands again, allowing Romania and Bulgaria into the club.
(January 31, 2015) Migrant crisis
Anti-immigration hysteria seems to take hold with references to “cockroches” by Katie Hopkins in the Sun and tabloid headlines such as “How many more can we take?” and “Calais crisis: send in the dogs”.
(February 1, 2016)
David Cameron returns from Brussels with an EU reform package - but it isn't enough to appease the Eurosceptic wing of his own party
(June 23, 2016) Brexit referendum
The UK votes to leave the European Union, triggering David Cameron's resignation and paving the way for Theresa May to become prime minister
(January 31, 2020) Britain leaves the EU
After years of parliamentary impasse during Theresa May's attempt to get a deal agreed, the UK leaves the EU.
An EU diplomat said: “We are quickly approaching a make-or-break moment in the Brexit talks. Intensive negotiations are continuing in in London. As of this morning it is still unclear whether negotiators can bridge the gaps on issues like level playing, governance and fisheries.
“As we are entering the endgame of the Brexit negotiations, some member states are becoming a bit jittery. So this was mostly an exercise to calm nerves in Paris and elsewhere, and to reassure member states that team Barnier will continue to defend core EU interests, including on fisheries.”
A number of member states, including France, whose president, Emmanuel Macron, has repeatedly stressed the importance of protecting Europe’s coastal communities, told Barnier they would prefer to restart the negotiations in 2021 than rush into a suboptimal agreement.
A source said: “Fish is getting down to nitty-gritty of species-by-species discussions. Barnier defended questions of whether the UK had moved enough on this issue, but they need to find a compromise Macron can back to find a deal.”
David McAllister, the German MEP who leads the European parliament’s Brexit steering committee, said a deal needed to be agreed urgently for the European parliament to give its consent by the end of the year.
He tweeted: “We are very much aware that the work on level playing field and state aid has entered the final phase. This is the critical moment where principles need to be translated into rules and, more importantly, rules need to be guaranteed by a robust enforcement framework.
“Swift progress is of the essence. An agreement needs to be reached within very few days if council and parliament are to complete their respective procedures before the end of the transition period. Democratic scrutiny is not negotiable.”
EU leaders are meeting next Thursday, but Brexit is yet to be put on the agenda, with sources suggesting that a deal or no-deal outcome is likely to be evident ahead of the summit.