Britain urges EU to move on fish, with Brexit deal possible in days

If negotiations fail, millions of businesses and consumers will face higher costs. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's officials believe a Brexit trade deal could be reached within days if both sides continue working in "good faith" to resolve what Britain sees as the last big obstacle in the talks - fishing rights.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called on the European Union to recognise that regaining control over British waters is a question of sovereignty for the UK.

He drew a positive picture of the state of negotiations and said he believed a deal on fish "ought" to be achievable during what could be the final week of talks.

"I think it's important that the EU understand the point of principle," Mr Raab told the Sophy Ridge on Sunday show on Sky News. "If they show the pragmatism, the goodwill and the good faith that in fairness I think has surrounded the last leg of the talks, and certainly we've shown in our flexibility, I think there's a deal to be done."

If negotiations fail, millions of businesses and consumers will face higher costs, with tariffs on goods as well as disruption to critical supply chains. The Brexit transition period ends on Dec 31, when Britain is scheduled to leave the EU's single market and customs regime.

On Monday, the prime minister's spokesman Jamie Davies told reporters that the UK wants to conclude negotiations as soon as possible - but, while there has been some progress, differences remain on both fisheries and the level playing field.

In a series of broadcast interviews on Sunday, the foreign secretary sounded upbeat.

Landing zone

Mr Raab said while fishing remained the major obstacle, he could see "a landing zone" for a deal on competition rules and state aid - the other major sticking point - if the EU is as "reasonable" as Britain has been. The EU insists the onus is on Britain to compromise.

While the cost of leaving the EU's single market and customs regime appears to be dwarfed by the economic impact of the coronavirus, the pandemic recession also means both sides should do all they can to help avoid any further damage, he said. That will mean compromises on both sides.

"At the end of the day it requires both sides to be a little bit flexible and pragmatic," Mr Raab said. "I do think the economic two-way advantage of getting this over the line ought to focus minds in the last few days."

He told the BBC's Mr Andrew Marr that the two sides "ought to" be able to get to an agreement on fishing, given the progress negotiators have made on other issues.

Barnier's proposals

Mr Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, said the bloc could accept a cut of 15 per cent to 18 per cent in its share of the catch in British waters.

The offer, which officials on both sides said was made more than a month ago and which has been the subject of negotiation since, was described as "risible" by Britain and Mr Raab rejected it again on Sunday.

Britain also wants new negotiations each year on access to British waters for EU fishing fleets, but the bloc is seeking a longer-term agreement. Face to face talks are continuing in London.

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