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Brexit end game sees negotiators clash on fishing proposals

Boris Johnson and EU leaders have clashed over post-Brexit fishing plans, as negotiations were due to enter their final day.

French President Emmanuel Macron warned the prime minister that he will not allow his fishermen to be “sacrificed” for the sake of a trade deal between Britain and the EU.

Arriving for an EU summit in Brussels, the French president warned he was prepared to see talks with the UK collapse if the “right terms” cannot be agreed.

Mr Johnson had previously said he would walk away from the negotiating table if there was no agreement on a trade deal by the start of the two-day gathering in Brussels.

French President Emmanuel Macron.

However, in a call on Wednesday evening with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel, he said he would “reflect” on the outcome of the summit before deciding on his “next steps”.

Following a briefing from the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, the EU leaders expressed “concern” that there had been insufficient progress for a deal to be agreed.

European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

In a text adopted by the summit, they “invited” Mr Barnier to continue his negotiations while urging member states to step up “preparedness and readiness” for all outcomes “including that of no agreement”.

All sides have acknowledged that the question of future fishing rights once the current Brexit transition period ends at the end of the year remains among the most difficult issues to be resolved.

‘Our fishermen should not be sacrificed for Brexit’

Mr Macron, who is under pressure from French fishermen who fear losing access to British waters, indicated that he was prepared to take a hard line.

“Under any circumstance, our fishermen should not be sacrificed for Brexit,” he said.

“If these conditions are not met, it’s possible we won’t have a deal. If the right terms can’t be found at the end of these discussions, we’re ready for a no-deal for our future relations.”

Boris Johnson.

Irish premier Micheal Martin also emphasised the importance of securing a satisfactory agreement on fishing if there was to be an overall trade deal.

“It is very important to us in Ireland that our coastal communities are protected in an overall deal on Brexit through a sensible and fair fisheries deal,” he said.

‘There are still differences… fisheries being the starkest’

Number 10 acknowledged that significant differences still remain on fishing rights.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “Some progress has been made this week, primarily in technical areas of the negotiations, but there are still differences, with fisheries being the starkest.

“We need to get the substance settled and not having a common text to work from has made progress doubly difficult.”

He added: “The PM will need to take a decision on next steps following the European Council in the light of his conversation with President von der Leyen, and on advice from his negotiating team.

“I cannot prejudge what that decision will be.”

Brexit fisheries talks: All you need to know as negotiations enter extra time

SNP deputy Westminster leader Kirsten Oswald MP warned the UK faced “mass job losses” unless a deal was agreed.

She said: “We are in the middle of a global health pandemic that has delivered a severe blow to the economy, businesses and people’s livelihoods. The impact of an extreme Brexit in just a matter of months will only serve as a double hit.

A perfect storm is brewing as a bad deal or no deal edges closer, and a winter of mass job losses and business closures looms as the Treasury shuts down key financial coronavirus support schemes.

“We now face the worst possible outcome – an extreme Tory Brexit in the middle of a health pandemic, imposed on Scotland against our will by a Boris Johnson government we didn’t vote for.”

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