EU diplomats mounted pressure on President Emmanuel Macron’s Brussels envoy to drop his “unrealistic” call for Britain to remain tied to the bloc’s Common Fisheries Policy beyond the end of the post-Brexit transition period. This comes as Michel Barnier raised hopes of a Brexit pact as the EU’s dealmaker declared there was a new “buzz” in the trade talks, according to Brussels sources. The European Union’s chief negotiator praised the “improved atmosphere” in the wrangling over a post-Brexit trade deal in a private meeting with MEPs.
Earlier this week at a private Brussels meetings, top European diplomats decided the bloc was being “too strict” with its demands to maintain status quo access to Britain’s coastal waters after the end of the year.
In clear split, landlocked member states urged their neighbours to soften their hardline approach or risk scuppering trade talks all together.
One diplomat close in the talks said: “We’re too strict, the EU must be realistic.”
A second source added: “The EU will have to soften its position. We should not just limit ourselves to the interests of a few states.”
European capitals decided the bloc could soften the blow for its fisherman using a special £4.5billion Brexit reserve to bail them out.
This has given Mr Barnier a renewed sense of optimism a breakthrough can be made during this week’s make-or-break round of UK-EU trade negotiations.
According to an EU source, the Brussels diplomat told MEPs both sides had been able to engage more closely on the contentious issues of fishing opportunities and state aid.
The source told Express.co.uk: “There seems to be more engagement from the UK side and a bit more buzz around the talks.
Mr Barnier, however, admitted the deadlock was not yet broken and would require more time to overcome.
The Brussels insider added: “There has yet to have been movement on the substance.”
Both sides today opened talks as part of the ninth formal round of wrangling over a post-Brexit trade deal.
British negotiators tabled five new draft trade proposals to unlock the process, including on fisheries and fair competition.
Eurocrats are also said to be undecided on whether to take legal action against Boris Johnson for alleged breaches to last year’s Brexit divorce deal.
Brussels is still locked in a row with Downing Street over its controversial plans to rewrite sections of the Withdrawal Agreement relating to Northern Ireland after Michael Gove refused to abandon the legislation.
But the European Commission has dropped an ultimatum to quit the talks unless No 10 scrapped or amended the Internal Market Bill by midnight tonight.
EU vice-president Maros Sefcovic was said to be “hesitant” when asked whether the EU would commit to hauling the Prime Minister before the European Court of Justice.
The top eurocrat said the bloc could launch a legal challenge before the Government’s Brexit Bill is adopted but would first have to seek permission from Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.
EU sources insist no decision will be made by eurocrats this week to avoid the current round of trade talks descending into an acrimonious exchange.
Mr Sefcovic stressed to MEPs the EU would not storm out of the talks over the dispute.
But some countries, including France, are pushing for Brussels to immediately trigger legal action against the Government unless the legislation is withdrawn.
With negotiators hoping to intensify their efforts, MEPs urged Mr Barnier not to be “bounced” into a secret talks – known as the tunnel.
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The Frenchman believes discussions without public scrutiny would help better facilitate an agreement.
But EU capitals are concerned Downing Street could use the secret trade talks to win concessions or later down the line in an attempt to blame Brussels for no deal.
A European source said: “The Brits are trying to bounce the EU into a tunnel without any light.”
The bloc wants more reassurances from Lord Frost, the Prime Minister’s Brexit envoy, that he is willing to compromise in order to reach an agreement.
Mrs von der Leyen today admitted the bloc needed a trade deal with Britain to aid its economic recovery after the coronavirus pandemic.
She said: “We want an agreement. I appeal for responsibility because our economies, on both sides of the Channel, are severely affected by the pandemic and we must do everything to reach a reasonable agreement.”
But in a move that could inflame tensions, Germany’s Michael Roth quoted a speech by wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Berlin’s Europe minister said: “Winston Churchill was right when he said: ‘You must look at facts because they look at you.’
“And the facts speak for themselves. Whether it’s the coronavirus pandemic or the climate crisis: no country can shoulder these global challenges on its own. Especially at a time when we are in a brutal competition with authoritarianism and the post-corona world will certainly get even more uncomfortable, we need one another as reliable and trustworthy partners now more than ever.”