Is the EU about to cave on fishing rights? Michel Barnier hints the bloc could compromise on the crunch issue as he meets David Frost in Downing Street for a private Brexit dinner of halibut and asparagus

  • Michel Barnier and David Frost are meeting in Downing Street this evening
  • They will discuss Brexit trade deal over a private dinner of halibut and asparagus
  • Meeting comes after Mr Barnier hinted EU is prepared to compromise on fishing 

Michel Barnier has hinted the EU is prepared to compromise on the crunch issue of fishing rights as he and his UK counterpart David Frost meet in Downing Street for Brexit trade talks this evening.

Mr Frost, the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, will welcome Mr Barnier for a private dinner which will see fish on the menu in more ways than one. 

The pair are expected to dine on chargrilled asparagus, followed by a fillet of halibut and then a terrine of summer fruits. 

Post-Brexit access to UK waters for EU fishermen is likely to dominate discussions with the issue viewed as one of the main hurdles to agreeing an overall trade deal. 

The meeting comes after it emerged Mr Barnier had told a House of Lords Select Committee last month that the bloc could water down its stance on fishing if the UK also agrees to compromise. 

David Frost will welcome the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier to Downing Street for a private Brexit dinner this evening. The pair are pictured together in Brussels on March 2

Mr Barnier said the EU ‘wants an agreement – and we are doing everything to succeed – but not at any price’

What are the sticking points between the EU and the UK on fishing?

The UK Government has insisted that once Britain formally splits from Brussels at the end of the transition period this year then it will become a fully independent coastal state. 

That means it will have the power to grant and restrict access to its waters. 

Downing Street has repeatedly said that British fishing boats will be given priority treatment over their EU counterparts. 

But the EU has been adamant that for an overall Brexit trade deal to be agreed then the existing arrangements on fishing will need to continue. 

In broad terms that would mean the UK effectively remaining subject to the main parts of the Common Fisheries Policy and would see EU fishing boats keep their current level of access to British waters.

The EU wants something like the status quo to continue while the UK wants to take a completely new approach – hence the struggle to reach an agreement. 

Brussels has been adamant throughout the Brexit talks that it wants current fishing arrangements, underpinned by the Common Fisheries Policy, to continue, with EU fishermen allowed to access UK waters in the same way they do now. 

But the UK Government is insistent British fishing boats will be given priority as it pushes for a new scientific approach based on how many fish are in domestic waters. 

Mr Barnier suggested to the Lords Select Committee on the European Union on June 23 that the EU is willing to compromise. 

According to a newly published transcript of the meeting, Mr Barnier told peers: ‘I recall that, for the European Union, things are simple and clear. 

‘The fisheries agreement that we want with the United Kingdom would be an indissociable part of the economic agreement on trade and the level playing field—or, to make it even more clear, there will be no trade agreement with the UK if there is no balanced agreement on fisheries. 

‘Is this balanced agreement the British position as it is? Certainly not. Is it the European position as it is today? Clearly not.’ 

He added: ‘If we both dig our heels in on those positions, there will be no discussion or agreement on fisheries and therefore no agreement on trade. That is not what we want.’  

Fishing is one of two main stumbling blocks to a deal. The other is the ‘level playing field’ – conditions Brussels demands to ensure fair competition by keeping the UK closely tied to EU standards on workers’ rights, the environment and state subsidies.

Mr Barnier tweeted as he travelled to London today that the EU ‘wants an agreement – and we are doing everything to succeed – but not at any price’. 

‘We are engaging constructively and I look forward to equivalent engagement from the UK this week,’ he said. 

The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said while the talks this evening are ‘informal’, discussions are likely to ‘cover everything from what the EU calls the level playing field through to governance structures’.

No ministers will be present at the dinner but ‘one or two’ officials from each side may attend. Downing Street said social distancing rules would be obeyed.

The two negotiators will be joined by their teams for further talks on Wednesday.

Last week, discussions between the two sides on a post-Brexit trade deal broke up early with ‘significant differences’ remaining.

It had been hoped that the face-to-face meetings – agreed following a high-level conference call last month between Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen – would inject new momentum into the process.

The Prime Minister has been adamant that he will not allow the discussions to drag on into the autumn, arguing that British businesses and citizens need certainty on the way forward before then.

If the two sides are unable to reach a deal by the end of the current Brexit transition period at the end of the year, it will mean Britain leaving the single market and the customs union without any agreement on future access. 

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