Brussels to hit Britain with fishing ultimatum the day after Brexit

James Crisp
Boris Johnson on a fishing trawler in Scotland in September. - AFP

Brussels plans to hit Britain with a demand for access to UK fishing waters the day after Brexit, it has emerged. 

Sources said the plan was to make EU access to British waters a condition for any trade deal and to make the demand public on, or as close as possible, to February 1, if Boris Johnson wins a majority in the general election

“That will be the day that reality hits home,” one EU diplomat told The Telegraph. 

The European Commission began work on Monday on drawing up internal mandates for the trade negotiations that will begin once Britain leaves the EU on January 31, 2020. 

British officials insist that Britain will be taking back control of its fishing waters, which are currently pooled with EU fleets, after Brexit.

Influential EU countries such as France, Denmark, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands want to maintain the status quo, which allows UK fleets to fish EU waters, after Britain leaves. 

A Tory majority would pave the way for the ratification of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement by the House of Commons and the European Parliament, which would mean Britain leaves at 11pm UK time on January 31. 

That will trigger an 11 month transition period to negotiate the UK-EU free trade agreement. The Tory manifesto promises that the tight time frame will not be extended. 

“There is no way in Hell to do a deal on the basis of what Boris Johnson is proposing,” the diplomat said, “the choice is either no deal Brexit 2.0 or to extend the transition period.”

The diplomat warned that the true deadline for a decision was not the end of December but June, which is when the UK and EU must decide whether to extend the transition period. 

“Fishing is the first flashpoint in what will be very difficult negotiations,” an EU diplomat said, “and it needs to be resolved by June, so in four months.”

Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator. Credit: Rex

Britain would have to ask for the extension to the transition period in June in order for it to be granted. Refusal to grant access to UK fishing waters, which would be on a reciprocal basis, would make finalising the trade deal by the end of December impossible. Talks cannot begin until Britain leaves the EU.

Outgoing Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan said on Monday that securing a trade deal with Brussels by the deadline was possible, despite warnings by EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier that such negotiations often last two to three years. 

Mr Barnier will move to his new role overseeing the negotiations on the future UK-EU partnership when the new European Commission takes office on December 1. 

Work has already begun in preparing for the trade negotiations, which promise to be even more complicated than the talks on the divorce treaty. 

EU diplomats met with European Commission officials on Friday and agreed to replicate the close cooperation between national governments and the EU executive that preserved EU unity during the first phase of the Brexit talks. 

The commission is preparing sector-specific seminars and briefings on the trade talks for December and January with a view to publishing its negotiating demands in February. 

Brussels will push for British guarantees that it will not undercut EU social, tax and environmental standards for competitive advantage after Brexit. 

It will also demand cooperation on security as another condition for the trade agreement, which will be a bare bones trade deal focusing on zero tariff trade in goods. 

EU diplomats said there was agreement that, if possible, the new relationship should be covered by one overarching deal, rather than a series of bilateral agreements. 

“If we are given time we can come up with a bespoke, more comprehensive, agreement that but if the December deadline is the key element then you can forget it,” a diplomat said. 

The Friday meeting also discussed post-Brexit plans to strip British EU officials of security clearance if they work on sensitive projects in, for example, the bloc’s foreign affairs service. 

EU governments today approved a list of 27 commissioners to serve Brussels for the next five years.  Britain is facing legal action for refusing to name a representative and missed a deadline on Friday to put forward a candidate. 

The commission is considering whether to pursue the lawsuit further. Britain could still face the possibility of paying large fines to Brussels  in the European Court of Justice after Brexit. 

The Withdrawal Agreement has provisions meaning the new executive could continue legal action against Britain if the UK leaves the EU on 31 January, officials warned. 

EU lawyers argue that the refusal breaches Britain's obligations as an EU member state and leaves the bloc open to legal challenges in the court.  

The UK also undertook not to frustrate the functioning of the EU, which is a promise its current stance breaches, an EU official said.

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