The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator told senior members of the European Parliament securing access to Britain’s waters is the easiest of the “divisive issues” to overcome. The Frenchman said the two sides have struggled to make progress on the overall trade agreement because of disagreements over the bloc’s demands for a regulatory level-playing field and fisheries. He was said to be confident in securing access to Britain’s fishing waters after the transition period ends in December even if trade talks breakdown, according to sources involved in the meeting.
A source told Express.co.uk: “Fisheries and regulatory alignment are the most divisive issues.
“On fisheries, Barnier seems more confident that an agreement is easier to find.”
Mr Barnier is understood to be poised to water down the EU’s demands for unchanged access to Britain’s fishing waters to prevent UK-EU trade talks from collapsing.
EU sources have said he was preparing to drop his “maximalist” position of insisting that the status quo on fishing rights in UK territorial waters remains in force after the transition period expires.
One EU diplomat said: “Our opening line of keeping the current terms is impossible to uphold. That is clearly unattainable so we’d be looking to some narrowing of the positions.”
An EU official said: “There have been hints of a possible reconciliation of approaches. We would be looking to shift on demands to keep every- thing as is now, a somewhat maximalist opening position, if the UK also moved from its position of coastal attachment.”
Boris Johnson has always been adamant that the UK must become an independent coastal state with full control over its waters.
Downing Street has also refused to consider EU proposals for a regulatory level playing field that will keep Britain tied to the bloc’s rulebook.
Mr Barnier told MEPs he believes David Frost, the Prime Minister’s chief negotiator, would be ready to accept no deal trade tariffs in order to secure full regulatory independence.
The Frenchman also repeated claims in a letter sent to opposition MPs at Westminster that the EU is ready to accept a two-year delay to trade negotiations.
The offer was yesterday ruled out by the Government in order to avoid paying vast sums into the EU budget.
Mr Frost said it is the “firm policy of the Government that we will not extend” the transition period and “we would not agree to it” if asked.
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“It’s the job of a good negotiator, and he is one, to assess reality, the positions of the other side, and the genuine ability to move.”
Mr Frost also hinted the bloc could be ready to make changes to its demand for status quo access to Britain’s fishing waters.
He said: “To be fair, Mr Barnier has given a few public signals that he thinks this may not be a completely realistic position and we’ll have to see if they can move forward on that.
“Clearly it’s not a runner for us.”