Boris Johnson ‘hopeful’ of Brexit trade deal, but no fisheries compromise

The Prime Minister spoke out after Brussels’ chief negotiator Michel Barnier said a trade deal between the UK and the EU is “unlikely” before the end of the year when the post-Brexit transition phase comes to an end.

The UK’s chief negotiator David Frost also admitted after the latest round of talks that a deadline for a breakthrough by the end of July would be missed, adding that “we must face the possibility that one will not be reached”.

But the Prime Minister said yesterday: “I’m sure that there’s a good deal to be done.”

Asked if this could be agreed by the end of the year, he added; “Yes.”

“There’s every reason for us to be very optimistic about getting a deal,” he added.

“I’m very hopeful that we will get a deal. I think as our chief negotiator David Frost said there are some things that we simply can’t compromise over.

“People understand the arguments about the level playing field, about fisheries and there’s no point in leaving the EU if you remain locked in the lunar pole of the EU and you are unable to do things differently. Everybody understands that and I think the EU also understands that, I think Michel also understands that.”

The Prime Minister said the EU chiefs may have difficulties with the UK’s tough stance on fisheries.

He added: “They are thinking `My goodness that’s a tall order.’ But actually its the right thing for the UK. In the early 1970s, we basically handed over control of our fisheries, we gave up our fisheries in the last throes of the Heath negotiations in a way the permanently disadvantaged UK fishers and Scottish fishers as well.

“Now’s the time to change that and change that back.”

Talks will continue with an informal round in London next week, a ‘no deal’ scenario remain on the cards which would mean significant new tariffs and barriers on trade between the UK and the EU.

Some progress has been made, with the EU offering concessions on the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and the UK said it had “heard the EU’s concerns” about the structure of deal.

But Mr Frost said “considerable gaps remain in the most difficult areas”, which includes fishing quotas and rules governing state subsidies.

Mr Frost said an “agreement can still be reached in September” but called for the EU to recognise it was in discussions with an “independent state”.

In a statement, he said: “It is unfortunately clear that we will not reach in July the ‘early understanding on the principles underlying any agreement’ that was set as an aim at the high-level meeting on June 15.”

Mr Frost added: “We have also had constructive discussions on trade in goods and services, and in some of the sectoral agreements, notably on transport, social security cooperation, and participation in EU programmes. We have also continued to deepen our understanding of each other’s constraints on law enforcement. But considerable gaps remain in the most difficult areas, that is, the so-called level playing field and on fisheries.

“We have always been clear that our principles in these areas are not simple negotiating positions but expressions of the reality that we will be a fully independent country at the end of the transition period.”

The UK’s transition period for leaving the EU is due to lapse at the end of December, and both sides have said any trade deal needs to be concluded by October in order to be ratified.

At a press conference in Brussels, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier warned the “time for answers is quickly running out”.

“By its current refusal to commit to the condition of open and fair competition, and to a balanced agreement on fisheries, the UK makes a trade agreement at this point unlikely,” Mr Barnier said.

He said Brussels had engaged “sincerely”, adding: “Over the past few weeks the UK has not shown the same level of engagement and readiness to find solutions respecting the EU fundamental principles and interests.”

Mr Barnier said the UK’s position on fisheries is “simply unacceptable”.

He said: “On fisheries, the UK is effectively seeking for near-total exclusion of fishing vessels from the UK’s water. That is simply unacceptable.”

Mr Barnier said gaps remain between the UK and EU on the so-called “level-playing field” arrangements.

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