In Brief

Fishing row rages on as Johnson urges EU to seal Brexit deal

MEPs set new deadline of this Sunday for agreeing future trade treaty

Boris Johnson has told the EU that a Brexit trade deal could be agreed this weekend provided the bloc changes its position on the two key outstanding issues.

Speaking to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen by phone yesterday evening, the prime minister insisted that “a deal can be done if Brussels gives ground on fish and state subsidies”, The Telegraph reports.

MEPs have set a new deadline of this Sunday for agreeing a future trade treaty. But Johnson warned von der Leyen that the long-discussed deal was in danger of “drifting away from us” unless the EU “substantially” changes its position over fishing quotas.

The talks were in a “serious situation”, he added.

The EU chief reportedly agreed that sealing a deal would be “very challenging”. Sources in the European Parliament struck a more optimistic tone, however, telling the paper that the two sides were “close to an agreement”.

All the same, Von der Leyen’s warning “makes clear that fishing is now the biggest obstacle to a deal”, writes The Spectator’s political editor James Forsyth.

Sources say “Brussels wants eight years’ unfettered access to British waters from 1 January, with little more than 20% of its quotas handed back to begin with”, according to The Telegraph.

The UK, meanwhile, has offered a three-year transitional period, conditional on the EU handing back at least half of its quotas now.

Commentators have pointed out that fishing accounts for only a tiny percentage of Britain’s economy. Indeed, luxury department store Harrods “is worth more to the UK economy than fishing”, tweets the Financial Times’ economics editor Chris Giles.

But “in some ways fishing - despite its small economic significance - has become the emblem of Brexit for supporters of the vote to leave”, says The Times.

The EU Common Fisheries Policy “has long been a source of discontentment” in the UK, the newspaper continues. 

As they stand, quotas for fishing “are based largely on how member states fished in the 1970s, and this means that, despite a long, well-stocked coastline, the UK has a poor share of the total allowable catch”. 

By contrast, the EU does well out of the arrangement, with European fishing vessels hauling in “over 70% of the allowable catch in British waters”.

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