Top officials in France and the European Union have insisted that any future trade deal with Britain must hinge upon equal access to fishing waters, underlining the symbolic importance of an industry crucial on both sides of the English Channel.
In laying out the European Union’s position on a future trade deal with Britain, chief negotiator Michel Barnier said that the UK’s access to the European market would be directly linked to EU boats’ access to British waters.
It was “in the interest of UK and European fisheries to have reciprocal access to our territorial waters and our markets,” Barnier insisted. “Agreement on fisheries will be inextricably linked to the trade agreement.”
Barnier’s comments came a day after France raised fishing as an area where Britain and the EU had mutual interests.
“This discussion will be pretty balanced because, while it is true that we need access to British waters, the British need access to the European market,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in an interview Sunday.
Britain has “extremely fish-rich waters in which many Europeans fish, starting with French people from Brittany, Normandy and the northern region”, Le Drian said.
“It so happens that the United Kingdom exports 75 percent of its fishing production to the European Union.”
Britain left the European Union under a deal in which the two sides agreed to strike an “ambitious, broad, deep and flexible partnership”, including a free trade deal and security agreements, during a transition period running to the end of 2020.
Until then, Britain remains part of the EU single market including the Common Fisheries Policy that gives all EU members equal access to fishing waters.
Much to lose over fishing
While British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said “taking back control” of fishing was one of the prizes of Brexit, the French and EU remarks sought to show the extent to which both London and Brussels had much to gain and much to lose.
“We are in favour of free trade but we are not going to be naïve,” Barnier said. He warned that there would be problems if the sides can not negotiate a deal by the end of the year.
Johnson meanwhile said the UK would not agree to follow EU rules in return for unfettered trade, because London wants to strike new deals around the world.
“The choice is emphatically not ‘deal or no-deal,’” Johnson said in a speech to business leaders and international diplomats at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich on Monday.
“The question is whether we agree a trading relationship with the EU comparable to Canada’s or more like Australia’s,” the former covering goods and services, the latter meaning new tariffs and other barriers.