Brexit: EU ‘damaged trust’ in UK negotiations says MEP
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Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen was leading the charge to hit the UK with sanctions as she attempted to build support amongst MEPs for the future relationship agreement. And France also joined the attack, insisting that Britain would face “reprisals” unless its fishermen are granted more generous access to our coastal waters. The interventions signal the start of what is expected to be a messy post-Brexit relationship between Brussels and Downing Street.
MEPs are today set to vote to endorse the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement to complete the bloc’s ratification of the 1,200-page treaty.
But many have raised concerns that Brussels will be too weak to ensure that Britain sticks to its commitments in the coming months amid an ongoing row over Northern Ireland.
Mrs von der Leyen urged the EU Parliament to back the agreement, saying the Commission has “real teeth” to keep Downing Street in line.
She said: “This agreement comes with real teeth with a binding dispute settlement mechanism and the possibility for unilateral remedial measures when necessary.
“Let me be very clear, we do not want to have to use these tools, but we will not hesitate to use them if necessary.
“They are essential to ensure full compliance with the TCA.”
Under the terms of the Brexit deal, either the UK and EU can move to slap the other with financial sanctions if they believe the terms of the treaty have been breached.
The EU has previously warned Britain risks falling too far below European standards and being stripped of its zero-tariff and zero-quota in the trade agreement.
Mrs von der Leyen added: “We know it will not always be easy and there is a lot of vigilance, diligence and hard work ahead.
“But, while today’s vote is obviously an end, it is also the beginning of a new chapter.
Britain’s decision to quit the bloc will be branded a “historic mistake” as part of MEPs resolution to officially ratify the future relationship treaty.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s former Brexit negotiator, said the split was a political failure for the bloc.
He told MEPs: “This is a divorce. It’s a warning, Brexit, and it’s a failure – a failure of the European Union.
“And we have to learn lessons from it as politicians here in the European Parliament, in council, in the Commission, in all of the capitals.
“Why did 52 percent of the British vote against Europe? There are reasons for that – social anger and tension which existed in many regions in the UK but also in many regions of the EU.
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“Our duty is to listen and understand the feelings of the people.”
Since stepping down as the bloc’s Brexit chief, Mr Barnier has repeatedly warned that top eurocrats have to learn from the lessons of Britain’s divorce.
The Frenchman even claimed his homeland could be one of the countries to quit the EU unless President Emmanuel Macron heeds his warnings.
One of the rows brewing is over access to Britain’s coastal waters for French fishermen.
French union bosses have accused British officials of dragging their feet over granting French vessels special access to operate in our exclusive 6-12 nautical mile coastal zone around the UK.
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Trawlermen operating out of Boulogne say they’ve had to stop working because 80 per cent of the local fleet in the Hauts-de-France region have not been granted licences.
Hardline Europe minister Clement Beaune said Britain would face “reprisals” unless France’s fishing industry is given access to operate in UK waters.
He suggested this could include a fish for financial services trade-off where Paris vetoes attempts to secure more generous access to EU markets for the City of London.
Mr Beaune, a close ally of President Macron, said: “We are asking for the whole deal, nothing but the deal, and for as long as it has not been implemented… we will carry out reprisals in other sectors if it is necessary.”
Britain has already approved 87 French vessels to operate in the 6-12 mile zone and 730 in the 12-200 zone.
Sources said many boat owners were struggling to secure permission because they were unable to meet demands for proof that they operated in UK fishing grounds in the five years running up to the 2016 referendum.
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