Hopes that a Brexit deal is about to be struck have been dashed after EU sources rubbished reports that the bloc has “caved” to the UK on key fishing rights.
European officials hit back at claims in The Telegraph that Brussels negotiators have conceded on a long-standing UK demand that future fishing opportunities be calculated on the basis of zonal attachment.
The concession would significantly increase the amount of fish caught in UK waters by British boats and allow London to claim victory in its goal of taking back control of the country’s fishing industry.
But EU sources insist that the reports are “far off the mark” and that fishing is still very much an open issue at this week’s talks in Brussels.
“[The UK government] can’t sell a deal to their voters that doesn’t include tangible prospects for their fisherman. Unless the fishermen can be told what they will be allowed to catch, there won’t be a deal,” an unnamed diplomat told the newspaper.
Brussels has warned that without a deal on fishing, no future trade agreement can be struck with Britain. Responding to the breakthrough claims, a Downing Street spokesperson said: “We’re not commenting on ongoing negotiations, but our position on fisheries has been clear from the start.”
The issue rests on the question of who will have the right to catch what and in which waters when the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December. Boats from member states land about eight times more fish in UK waters than British fishing crews do in EU waters, but the UK is dependent on the European export market.
Economics aside, fishing has long been “an emotional issue” too in the UK’s relationship with the bloc, explains the BBC, and Brexiteers “see it as a symbol of sovereignty that will now be regained”.