Brexit trade talks went “backwards” last week and there are only a few days left to decide if a deal can be struck, according to the UK’s environment secretary.
George Eustice said today that the UK will definitively have to walk away from talks in three days if the UK and EU can’t “resolve these quite fundamental divergences of the moment” on fisheries access to British waters.
UK chief negotiator Lord David Frost is in Brussels today to restart Brexit talks with EU negotiator Michel Barnier, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commissioner Urusula von der Leyen spoke for an hour last night.
In a joint statement the pair said “significant differences” remained over fisheries, business subsidy regulations and the overall governance of the deal.
A senior UK source close to Frost told the Telegraph it was a “final throw of the dice”.
Johnson and von der Leyen are slated to speak again tomorrow night.
Speaking to the BBC today, Eustice said: “There’s no denying the end of last week was quite a setback.
“The European Union came forward with lots of new additional request again so we stated again last week as hopeful and there’s no denying things have gone backwards later last week.”
French demands over fisheries access to UK waters is now seen as the largest barrier to a post-Brexit trade deal, with Emmanuel Macron reportedly prepared to veto the deal.
Barnier is asking for EU countries to maintain access to 80 per cent of the value of fish in British waters that they had pre-Brexit.
The UK’s latest offer to Brussels is reportedly for them keep as little as 20 per cent – a figure turned down by Barnier.
“We can’t be the only country in the world that doesn’t control its own waters,” Eustice said.
“International law is very clear that you should control and manage your waters out to two miles and we want to be able to to do that like Norway or any other normal country.”
A senior Number 10 figure told The Times last night that the chances of a deal were now “50-50” and thirteen cabinet ministers told the paper that they supported a no-deal Brexit if need be.
The European Research Group of Tory Brexit hardliners also issued a statement last night in support of the Prime Minister.
“[We] the fullest confidence in David Frost and the British negotiating team”, it said.
“We have nothing to fear from freedom.”