France and Denmark thought to be most cautious about budging from current demands on fish caught in British waters

EU member states with the largest fishing fleets are being asked by Ursula von der Leyen’s senior team to rethink their “final offer” after Downing Street made a significant move to break the Brexit deadlock.

France and Denmark are understood to be the most cautious about making a counter-proposal, budging from their current demand that their vessels lose only 25% by value of the fish they catch in British waters.

The European commission president spoke by telephone to Boris Johnson on Monday night to discuss a way forward, with Von der Leyen said by EU sources to be determined to find a landing zone for a deal.

Behind-the-scenes discussions were ongoing on Tuesday morning between the commission president’s most senior aides and the EU capitals most affected by the changes to fishing arrangements brought by Brexit.

According to EU sources, under a proposal tabled on Monday afternoon by the UK’s chief negotiator, David Frost, the British demand for a 60% reduction in the catch by value in British waters has been reduced to 35%, far closer to the 25% reduction that Frost’s EU counterpart, Michel Barnier, had said he would be prepared to accept.

Boris Johnson has suggested a five-year phase-in period for the new arrangements – up from his initial offer of three years – with a compromise also likely on the application of tariffs or export bans on goods where fishing access changes after the phase-in period, it is understood.

Where the quota share is reduced in the future, an independent arbitration panel will deduce the cost and allow either side to levy tariffs on goods or seek compensation.

According to sources briefed on the terms, there will also be a termination clause should the reduction in access be judged to be egregious, opening up a fresh negotiation on all aspects of the trade deal. UK sources declined to comment.

EU sources said the offer was not in itself enough for a deal to be brokered but that if France and Denmark could be convinced of the merits of further talks, it could lead to a last feverish period of negotiation.

The EU side will want a slightly longer phase-in period for changes to quotas and there are concerns over the remedies proposed for when European vessels lose out.

The negotiators are now running out of road with just nine days before the UK leaves the EU’s single market and customs union, with or without new trade and security arrangements in place.

The European parliament has already said it is too late for it to hold a vote of consent on any deal. The member states would probably seek to “provisionally apply” the deal on 1 January, with MEPs voting later in the month.

But this process also takes a number of days, given the need for legal scrubbing, translation and scrutiny by the governments. Should the talks go beyond 23 December, there may be an unavoidable period after 1 January where there is a no-deal outcome. Contingency measures could be negotiated to avoid the worst impacts but it would leave exporting businesses, ports and security services in a legal limbo.

Senior MEPs were advised on Monday by the European parliament’s legal service that it might be possible to extend the transition period through a new treaty. But asked on Tuesday morning if there was any temptation to seek an extension to the Brexit transition period, the home secretary, Priti Patel, said: “No, there is not.”


News – Brexit deadlock: EU members asked by Brussels to think again on fishing offer