Two outstanding Brexit issues left, says British foreign secretary

Dominic Raab identifies fisheries and competition as remaining problems to be resolved

The European Union and United Kingdom agree that a big gap must be bridged on fisheries. File photograph: Getty

The European Union and United Kingdom agree that a big gap must be bridged on fisheries. File photograph: Getty

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Talks on Britain’s future relationship with the European Union have entered their final week with just two major issues to be resolved, said foreign secretary Dominic Raab on Sunday.

Teams led by EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and David Frost for the UK talked through the weekend in London with both sides agreeing that time is running out to reach a deal in time for it to be approved by the European Parliament and Westminster.

“I do think that this is a very significant week, the last real major week subject to any further postponement in terms of the timing,” Mr Raab told the BBC.

“We’re down to really two basic issues. But I think in particular the issue around fisheries, and we need the EU to accept the point of principle that as we come through the transition period it’s a fact of leaving the EU that we take back sovereignty and control over our own coast – as a coastal state, control of our own waters and our own fisheries.”

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Mr Raab identified the other outstanding issue as that of level playing field guarantees of fair competition, although he said there had been progress there with the EU showing “greater respect” for the British position. EU sources are more cautious, noting that important differences remain on the level playing field and that the two sides have yet to agree on how any agreement will be enforced.

Both sides agree that a big gap must be bridged on fisheries, with Britain calling for the EU to lose 80 per cent of its catch in British waters while the EU wants to give up less than 20 per cent. Fishing is politically sensitive in Britain and in several EU coastal states but it is economically insignificant and the annual value of the disputed catch is in the hundreds of millions of euros.

“We ought to be able to, on both sides, resolve fisheries if you take the context of the wider economic gains and potential downsides of not having a further deal,” said Mr Raab.

Northern Ireland protocol

Any deal must be ratified by the European Parliament and although it will not be put to a direct vote in the House of Commons, MPs will have to approve implementation legislation. A Labour frontbencher suggested on Sunday that his party will back a deal on the basis that it will provide a framework for relations with the EU that can be improved in the future.

But shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said Labour’s support would be contingent on the outcome of negotiations on how the Northern Ireland protocol will be implemented.

“We want to see a deal, it would cause untold economic harm if we were to leave without a deal. It’s not what the EU want, it certainly not what the Irish government want and it’s definitely not what we want, so we do want to see a deal, but until we see the construct of a deal, we can’t confirm our support for it,” he told Sky News.

“Obviously there are still big question marks about the Irish Border and the peace process, making sure that that isn’t sacrificed as part of any agreement that’s reached. Our view is: with good will, with time put into it, that we can get to a point where there is a deal that we can look at supporting.”