Brexit talks in Brussels on an EU-UK trade deal broke up early yesterday, with the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, complaining of a lack of respect by the UK government. The two sides ended the week’s negotiations, the first in person since February, a day ahead of schedule amid frustration over “serious” disagreements. Mr Barnier said: “Our goal was to get negotiations successfully and quickly on a trajectory to reach an agreement. However, after four days of discussions, serious divergences remain.”
Mr Barnier highlighted access to fishing grounds for EU vessels and state aid rules.
He said he recognised the British red lines but suggested the EU’s flexibility had not been met with similar understanding from Downing Street.
The UK insists any fishing agreement must be separate from the trade deal with access negotiated annually in a similar fashion to Norway’s agreement with the bloc.
As tensions are set to rise, unearthed reports reveal how the EU tried to intimidate Britain in 2018, warning the country that fish and chips would have been at risk unless the UK caved in to the EU’s fishing demands.
According to a throwback report by The Telegraph, former Prime Minister Theresa May told MPs she had “firmly rejected” a demand for access to fisheries in return for a UK-EU trade deal.
Minutes later, Sabine Weyand, the now EU Director-General for Trade and former EU’s deputy Brexit negotiator, tweeted that a fisheries agreement was “in the best interests of both sides”.
She then shared research that showed Britain needed EU imports of cod and haddock to keep eating fish and chips.
The research showed Britain catches only five percent of the cod it eats, about 21,000 tonnes, and imports the rest, equivalent to 110,000 tonnes.
More than half of UK-consumed haddock, which is also used in fish and chips, is imported, amounting to 47,000 tonnes last year.
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The top two UK catches are mackerel and herring but they are almost entirely for export to the Netherlands and Norway.
The UK sends 81 percent of its mackerel, and 93 percent of its herring abroad.
In a report for the Brexit think tank ‘Red Cell’ titled ‘Putting The Fisheries Negotiations Into Context’ and published in March, Icelandic historian Hjörtur J. Guðmundsson argued that British fishermen would greatly benefit under a “no deal” scenario.
He explained: “Should there be no trade agreement between Britain and the EU once the transition period comes to an end export of seafood from both sides will be subject to tariffs.
“This means British caught fish is likely to become less expensive than imported fish from the EU.
“Most of the fish consumed in Britain is imported and often from EU countries.
“Keeping Britain’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as a general rule for British fishermen apart from negotiated agreements on shared stocks will mean greatly increased catch for them.
“Some have suggested that prices for British fish will also increase significantly as a result of more supply.
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“However, with tariffs on imported fish from the EU the demand for locally caught fish is likely to grow as well.”
This scenario, Mr Guðmundsson added, could quite possibly have a “positive impact” on Britain’s balance of trade with the EU when it comes to seafood.
He noted: “Instead of importing most of the fish consumed in Britain it would under these circumstances be caught and consumed domestically.
“In many cases the fish, which has for the past decades been caught by EU fishermen in British waters, landed in EU ports and then imported to Britain would now be caught by British fishermen, landed in Britain and then sold to British consumers.”
The historian argued that what is more of a question now is how the EU intends to make up for the fish its fishermen will no longer be able to catch in British waters.
He added: “The EU is also dependent on imported fish like Britain. This means the EU will become even more dependent on imported fish while Britain will have the opportunity to catch much more fish from its own waters than before.
“It is hard to see other countries, like Iceland and Norway, being able to fill that gap.
“On top of this the EU is a declining market compared to how many other markets are doing, as EU leaders such as former EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker have publicly recognised.
“The future markets will be elsewhere, particularly in Asia in countries such as China and India, which is why the British government must decide how much it is willing to sacrifice for better access to a relatively declining market.
“Consequently, Britain needs to make sure seafood is included in free trade agreements with other countries.”