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Jill Rutter, a senior fellow at the Institute for Government who specialises in Brexit and Government policy, has laid out the routes the Prime Minister could take to bring the row to an end and strike a trade deal with the bloc. In a blogpost for The UK in a Changing Europe, Ms Rutter said while recognising the UK as an independent sovereign nation would be an “easy concession” for Eurocrats to make, Britain giving way would be a less straight-forward process.
One option is for the UK negotiating team, led by David Frost, to agree to scrap the idea of annual negotiations on fishing access.
The UK is demanding a Norway-style fishing agreement with talks held each year.
Ms Rutter said Britain could acknowledge that “annual negotiations are simply impossible given the number of shared fish stocks” in a bid to break the deadlock.
She said: “The UK would not be overly compromising its independence by agreeing in principle to a more stable framework, with agreements that covered a number of years.”
She continued: “Second, while the EU could concede that it needs to move away from historic shares which reflect fishing patterns from previous decades and agree in principle that the long-run basis would be ‘zonal attachment’ which is what the UK wants.
“But the UK could concede that it will phase in changes over time.”
She warned that this option would be hard to sell to British fishermen who have long called for foreign boats to be kicked out of UK waters.
She said many in the industry are eagerly awaiting the end of the Brexit transition period and expect “huge uplifts straight away”.
But she argued that this option would “give more time for EU fishing communities to adjust, and time for the UK to work out what how it proposes to deal with additional quota (and ensure that it benefits UK fishing communities rather than get transferred into foreign hands which has happened to much of England’s quota in
the past and is one of the major sources of resentment).”
And the third option for Mr Johnson to find common ground on fishing would be to make the agreement conditional to a free trade deal.
She explained: “Finally, even though the fishing associations are clear that they want no linkage between trade and access, some at least in the industry (the shellfish fishers who have been hardest hit by the loss of export and restaurant markets from Covid), the UK should make clear that the fish deal is conditional on a satisfactory trade deal.”
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Ms Rutter’s advice comes as Michel Barnier is reportedly ready to cave on one of his key fishing demands.
The Times reported the EU is now ready to acknowledge that European trawlers do not have automatic access to the rich British waters.
Mr Barnier is said to have accepted the position.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator is expected to tell the UK the bloc will recognise the former EU member as an independent coastal state.
And he is also believed to be prepared to agree to hold annual talks with Britain over fishing quotas from next year.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has said there is no reason why the bones of a Brexit deal cannot be completed by the end of July.
He struck an optimistic tone following a video conference with EU leaders on Monday.
Mr Johnson said: “It is very clear what we need to achieve.
“I don’t think we’re that far apart, but what we need is a bit of oomph in the negotiations, and I was pleased that Ursula von der Leyen [and other EU officials] all agree … There is no reason why we shouldn’t get this done in July.”
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