Ireland, France, Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands will “remain united” in their position that coastal communities across the continent must be protected under any post-Brexit free trade deal. Boats from the five nations have benefitted massively from fishing in Britain’s rich waters and as trade talks enter the final phase leaders are wary of losing access.
Ireland’s marine minister Charlie McConalogue touched on the contentious issue of fishing rights as he addressed the Brexit Stakeholder Consultative Committee.
He noted his recent bilateral meetings with fisheries ministers from the other four nations at this week’s Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Luxembourg.
He said it is vital that the five countries support each other in their tough fishing stance.
Mr McConalogue said: “As we reach a critical point in the negotiations, I highlighted that, now more than ever, it is vital that member states continue to remain united in order to protect the EU’s fishing industry and coastal communities.
“Unity, co-operation and solidarity between member states are vital at this critical juncture.”
As Lord Frost and Mr Barnier got to work on thrashing out a deal this morning, Ireland’s foreign minister said he believed Britain and Brussels could reach an agreement with the resumption of discussions.
However, Simon Coveney added the issues of fair competition and fisheries hampering an accord were “still very much there”.
He added: “When we got a deal done this time last year, a lot of people were predicting that there would be a no-deal Brexit.
Despite being optimistic about a deal, he admitted that both sides remained “miles apart” on fishing.
The chief Brexit negotiators will tackle the thorny issue during their talks today after Mr Barnier said both sides would need to compromise for a deal to be reached.
Fishing rights remains the main bone of contention after some progress on competition guarantees including state aid rules were made in previous talks.
Boris Johnson has insisted on taking back control over British waters while the EU wants continued access to the fishing waters.
Asked if there would be a deal, junior finance minister Stephen Barclay said: “I hope so.”
He added: “But that deal needs to reflect that fact that we’re leaving the EU, we will regain control of our fisheries.”
At a briefing with diplomats in Brussels on Wednesday, Mr Barnier said he was only worried about fish, one person who participated in the closed-door meeting said.
The diplomat said: “Fish is now the thing to tackle.
“The other elements seem doable, more or less.”