The European Union’s chief negotiator set a new deadline of October 31 for Britain and Brussels to finally conclude on their free-trade agreement. During a hearing with French MPs, the bureaucrat warned it would be far from straight forward because of Boris Johnson’s promise to deliver a “huge difference” for British fishermen. The Prime Minister handed the ultimatum to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen last month during their showdown talks.
According to Mr Barnier, he said: “I want a huge difference in relation to the status quo on fishing.”
But the fisheries standoff appears likely to persist after a key ally of Emmanuel Macron warned France would rather push for no deal than abandon support for its coastal communities.
Paris is pushing for status quo access for EU vessels to Britain’s fishing grounds as the price for any trade deal.
Newly appointed European affairs minister Clement Beaune warned the tough-talking President would not support a bad deal for French trawlermen.
Mr Beaune said: “We will not accept a deal at any price – better no deal at all than a bad deal.
“Let’s not kid ourselves. If there is no deal, it will be a difficult issue.
“We’ll have to organise a response for sectors like fisheries, and support our fishermen financially.”
He added a future relationship pact with Britain is still possible, but “we’re not there yet”.
French diplomats in Brussels have recently clashed with colleagues over criticism of France’s hardline position.
Lithuania and Hungary were both accused of “unacceptable” behaviour after they complained Paris could scupper chances of a Brexit deal.
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The spokesman said: “We’ve had constructive discussions and both sides have shown pragmatism and willingness to move on difficult areas.
“What is needed now is reflection on the EU side on whether what they’re asking us is consistent with our status as an independent country. If they come to the correct conclusion, we’ll be able to move forward.”