France twists knife: Michel Barnier told to stand firm as Brexit fishing row explodes

Brexit: French MEP says fishing ‘must remain priority’

A leading French MEP François-Xavier Bellamy has ordered the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier to stand firm against Britain’s fishing demands. Mr Bellamy told the European Parliament this morning that fishing “will remain a priority down to the last minute”. He added that French fishermen, who stand to lose out after the transition period, “know they can rely on Michel Barnier” to prioritise them in any agreement. 

Mr Bellamy chastised other MEPs for “replaying the Brexit debate” as he insisted that “lives were at stake” in the talks.

He told MEPs: “What we need to do is pursue the interests of the citizens of our country right down to the wire.

“For them, for us, for our British friends, we need to give every opportunity for a deal right down to the end.

“It will be vital for the protection of our economies, which are wrecked by the current Covid crisis.”

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He continued: “We need to avoid a breakdown in industrial relations and a body blow to the agricultural sector.

“And a tragic situation for the fisheries sector. How can we not mention them?

“Also for British fishermen who would lose their sales outlets. There are so many jobs, from Bologna to Rotterdam.

“So much depends on this activity and its historical links with the sharing of our waters.

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“Lives are at stake here. That is the only thing that should count in the final days.

“Thanks to our negotiation team, fisheries has never been an adjustment variable in the discussions.

“It must remain a priority right down to the last minute. We know how we can rely on Michel Barnier for that.”

The remark from the Les Républicains MEP followed Michel Barnier’s speech to the Parliament, in which he doubled down on Brussels’ demand that fishing rights be linked to trade.

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He warned the UK and EU were at the “moment of truth” in the negotiations.

Brussels are demanding the power to freeze British companies and especially its fishing industry out of the Brexit trade deal and the Single Market if EU fishermen are shut out of UK waters in the future.

The EU’s chief negotiator said it was “unacceptable” that Britain could cut off access to UK waters but keep the benefits of the trade deal with the bloc.

Mr Barnier said, “The European Union also has to maintain its sovereign right to react or to compensate by adjusting the conditions for products, and especially fisheries products, to the Single Market.”

However, Boris Johnson has repeatedly rejected calls to link fisheries to trade because of the risk of EU-led retaliation. 

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