France, and other coastal states, face massive cuts to fishing quotas after the end of the year unless Boris Johnson compromises. Access to Britain’s waters has become the most explosive topic in the wrangling over the UK-EU future relationship pact. Clement Beaune, France’s Europe minister, who is a close ally of the President, said his government was ready to block the trade deal unless its fishermen are granted generous access to UK fishing grounds.
Mr Beaune said: “It is complicated and we do not want to act under pressure because there are two things that are very concrete for the French, for the Europeans, for our companies: the first is fishing, which is extremely important to French regions such as Haute France, Normandy, Brittany.
“We don’t accept that the British block access to their waters. It’s not possible. We make efforts and compromises, and we have said so to fishermen, but we will not sacrifice our fisheries and our fishermen. And the British know that.”
He insisted Paris was prepared to veto a “bad” deal for French fishermen.
Mr Beaune added: “Yes, we are a bit fed up, but we’re not going to stop knocking on the door because we’re tired. And it’s Michel Barnier who negotiates for us.
“When the deal is on the table, we’ll take a look and analyse it to see if it defends our fishermen well or not. If we see that the deal is worse than not having an agreement, we will not hesitate, like all other countries can, to reject it.
“We still have time for negotiations. A few days, at least. After that, we have to be clear to our companies, to our fishermen… and say yes or no, deal or no deal.
The threat is likely to hang over over Mr Johnson’s efforts to unlock the trade talks when he travels to Brussels for showdown talks later this week.
The Prime Minister will meet in person with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to thrash out the final outstanding issues in the trade talks – fishing rights, the so-called level playing field and governance.
He could also meet with French President Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
German European affairs minister Michael Roth welcomed the face-to-face talks after previous top-level contacts were held via telephone because of the pandemic.
Mr Roth said: “It is good that every effort is undertaken to find a sustainable and good solution.
“We want to reach a deal but not at any price. What we need is London political will in London.
“Let me be clear: our future relationship is based on frost and confidence. It is precisely this confidence that is at stake in our negotiation right now.”
UK Brexit envoy Lord Frost will meet with officials from the European Commission to hammer out the final issues that need to be worked on at the political level.
Senior Government sources have warned there is every chance the deadlocked talks can still end in a no deal.
One insider said: “Talks are in the same position now as they were on Friday. We have made no tangible progress.
One EU diplomat said: “Political intervention won’t do anything when the positions are still heavily guarded.
“Perhaps there is choreography leading to the EU’s Wednesday/ Thursday special summit.
“However, the fundamentals have not seen change and basically nothing has altered for the last eight weeks.
“I’m in the dark what would now suddenly move which didn’t before.”
Additional reporting by Maria Ortega