Fisheries seen as remaining stumbling block to Brexit trade deal

European Parliament says it will not ratify a deal by the end of the year if it is reached any later than Sunday

Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen have identified fisheries as the only remaining stumbling block in the way of a post-Brexit trade deal, but stressed that big differences remained on the issue.

The British prime minister and the European Commission president spoke by phone on Thursday evening for what both sides described as taking stock of progress in the negotiations.

The commission president welcomed “substantial progress on many issues”, but said bridging differences on fisheries would be very challenging.

Downing Street said Mr Johnson described the negotiations as being in “a serious situation”, but that the EU would have to move for a deal to become possible.

“On fisheries he stressed that the UK could not accept a situation where it was the only sovereign country in the world not to be able to control access to its own waters for an extended period, and to be faced with fisheries quotas which hugely disadvantaged its own industry. The EU’s position in this area was simply not reasonable, and if there was to be an agreement it needed to shift significantly,” a spokesperson said.

“The prime minister repeated that little time was left. He said that if no agreement could be reached, the UK and the EU would part as friends, with the UK trading with the EU on Australian-style terms.”

Talks could continue beyond Christmas despite an ultimatum from the European Parliament for a deal to be agreed by next Sunday, British cabinet office minister Michael Gove has told MPs.

Westminster went into recess on Thursday, but the British parliament can be recalled at 48 hours’ notice, and whips believe implementation legislation could go through both houses within a day or two.

The European Parliament said on Thursday it would not ratify a deal by the end of the year if it was reached any later than Sunday.

"We give until Sunday to Boris Johnson to make a decision. The uncertainty hanging over citizens and businesses as a result of UK choices becomes intolerable," said Dacian Ciolos, the president of Renew Europe, the group in which Fianna Fáil sits. "Michel Barnier and his team has our full support as we head to the Brexit moment of truth."

Mr Gove said that while  “Christmas Day will be sacrosanct” they could “apply provisional application of the treaty”.

Difficult

Mr Barnier, the EU chief negotiator, briefed MEPs that an agreement in the coming days is possible but difficult, especially on fisheries, according to a source close to the briefing. Any failure to reach a deal imminently may lead to a period of no deal, he warned.

In a joint statement the heads of the European Parliament’s political groups said the parliament “stands ready to organise an extraordinary plenary session towards the end of December” to ratify a deal.

However, it would not do so if a deal came any later than Sunday, it warned, insisting that the parliament must have a copy of a provisional text “as soon as possible” to begin scrutinising it.