The UK will not back down on its demands to the EU over fisheries in Brexit trade talks, Michael Gove has said, as the two sides hold crunch talks today in the hopes of hammering out a last-minute trade deal.
Responding to concerns set out by Jeremy Miles, the Welsh minister for European transition, Gove said: “I am afraid we strongly disagree with your premise that we should ‘back down’ on fisheries.”
“The UK government’s view is that in all circumstances, the UK must be an independent coastal state, no longer be bound by the Common Fisheries Policy,” the Cabinet Office minister added.
Fisheries remain the major stumbling block in trade negotiations between Britain and the bloc, as the EU seeks to up its access to British fishing waters at the end of the Brexit transition period.
The UK will no longer be part of the Common Fisheries Policy once Britain formally leaves the single market on 1 January, meaning it will in theory have autonomy over its own fishing waters.
But French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to scupper any Brexit deal that “sacrifices” French fishermen’s access to their usual haul.
Boats from Brittany, Normandy and the Calais area catch more than half of their fish in British waters, and Macron has warned that a Brexit trade deal that compromises current access would decimate France’s fishing industry.
However, the French President has faced mounting pressure from other EU leaders to soften his “egregious” stance on fisheries, which make up just 0.06 per cent of the French economy.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been touted as the key figure in breaking the current Brexit impasse, with government sources telling the Telegraph she had been tapped by ministers to help “unlock Macron on fisheries”.
It comes as Gove is set to meet with major UK retailers today to discuss British businesses’ access to vital customs software post-Brexit.
The Association of Freight Software Suppliers (AFSS) said its digital paperwork software is unlikely to be ready in time for Britain’s official exit from the EU on 1 January.
It comes after the Treasury Committee last week wrote to chancellor Rishi Sunak to express “serious concerns” that an eleventh-hour trade deal with the EU would not give businesses enough time to prepare for Brexit.
The cross-party group of MPs warned that delays to setting up computer systems that allow businesses to handle new post-Brexit customs requirements will significantly hamper UK companies.
The select committee said: “The government has left it very late to develop all the IT needed in time, with testing and changes still being made now, years after the government had chosen to leave the EU customs union”.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier is due to hold crunch talks with British envoy David Frost in London today, as hopes for a trade deal run increasingly slim ahead of the 31 December deadline.
Talks between the pair were due to wrap on Sunday, but Number 10 has now extended discussions until tomorrow in the hopes of seeking compromises over the main sticking points.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday warned that “time is very short” to overcome key stumbling blocks in Brexit negotiations, adding that “there is much work to be done if we’re going to bridge what are the significant gaps that remain between our positions in the most difficult areas.”
Johnson originally set 15 October as an “informal” deadline for reaching the “outline of a deal” with the EU, warning that he would walk away from discussions if an agreement had not been met by that date.
Both sides returned to the negotiating table last Thursday after a week-long standoff over the passed deadline, with Barnier telling reporters “every day counts”.