Richard North, 28/11/2020  
 


The Telegraph seems to think that a breakthrough on fishing could be close with the EU set to formally recognise British sovereignty over UK waters.

Brussels, we are told, has also accepted a British proposal for a transition period on fishing rights after 1 January, but there is no agreement on how long it should last or how it should work. The transition is to give the UK time to build up its fleet to catch its increased quota, and EU fishermen more time to adapt to a smaller share of the fish in UK waters.

This, apparently, is a "tentative compromise" and "senior government figures" are telling the Telegraph that they believe that this is a prelude for the EU to cave to other British demands on fishing in the coming week of intensified negotiations in London.

The transition period is not new, though. Frost is said to have offered a transition period of up to three years in September, but the EU is understood to want a much longer timeframe. Some "sources" say that the EU wants at least ten years, although the situation in ongoing negotiations is still "extremely fluid".

Specifically, there is no agreement over whether officials should agree now what happens after the end of the transition period, or whether they negotiate that during the period itself. Furthermore, there is no agreement on what the transitional measures should be and if they should build towards an end state or be standalone.

The UK, is taking the line that future arrangements should be negotiated during the transition period. On the other hand, the EU is pursuing a stance that it has taken consistently throughout the talks, wanting any fresh negotiations to apply to the trade deal as a whole.

This strikes at one of the main points of contention, with the EU seeking to bundle the agreements into one package, while the UK insists on separation to prevent cross-sector retaliation in the case of disputes.

Bluntly, this does not look as if a deal is about to be reached, or that there is going to be a meeting of minds any time soon. And then there is the outcome of Barnier's meeting with fisheries ministers, which must also be factored in.

The Telegraph dispenses with this issue fairly swiftly, saying that the EU had offered the UK the return of 18 percent of its own fish. Unsurprisingly, a British source has "dismissed the offer" - which had already been rejected once before - as "derisory". It is not hard to see why.

On the other hand, EU sources are said to be claiming that the UK is demanding an 80 percent increase in quota. UK sources says that this "misrepresents" the British position.

The Financial Times goes big on this bit of the story, after it had been covered by RTE, retailing roughly the same information as the Telegraph but at somewhat greater length.

There is none of the optimism in the FT though, which suggests that the UK's dismissal deals "a blow to hopes that the two sides can secure a post-Brexit trade deal in coming days".

This, of course, could be a "darkest hour before dawn" stunt, the two sides painting a black picture as a prelude to an eleventh hour agreement. Just to keep his backbenchers on-side, Johnson has to have a deal which looks hard-fought and gives away as little as possible.

If the current spread is 18-80 percent (with the split between species not specified), that would seem to leave the way open for a 50-50 split as a compromise, with further room for manoeuvre on the transition period. In the way of things, an agreement could come together very quickly – especially if it has been stage-managed.

There again, this could represent a genuine sticking point, from which neither side is prepared to retreat. In the theatre of last-minute negotiations, there is simply no way of telling. We are being told what the parties want us to know, the intended effects of which are known only to them.

However, the other outstanding issues – on level playing field and governance - have also to be resolved. According to Barnier, the same "significant divergences" persist. He has told EU ambassadors that the virtual talks this week have been "largely fruitless", with the two sides mired in disagreements over sticking points that have dogged the negotiations for months.

In sharp contrast to Frost, who is saying that "a deal is still possible, and I will continue to talk until it’s clear that it isn't", Barnier has observed that, "The conditions for an agreement are not there". Both sides agree, however, that there are only "several days" left to find a deal. Wednesday is being cited as the "final, final" deadline, but that probably means just about as much as one of Johnson's promises.

Interestingly, although the liar-in-chief is ready to speak with von der Leyen, a British government "insider" (which makes a change from a "source") says that no contact between the pair is expected over the weekend. That could mean that they are holding back for a final bit of theatre later in the week, or it could mean exactly what it says – no more, and no less.

EU ambassadors, though, seem to be leaving nothing to chance. They are urging the Commission to come forward with no-deal contingency measures to protect sensitive sectors such as air transport and road haulage from disruption in the event that talks fail.

With that, there is nothing much more new to say. In the absence of hard information, some newspapers are padding out their stories, recycling old copy, and the Guardian has published a sniffy editorial on the "Brexit endgame", one of the many which can't seem to cope with the idea that we left the EU at the end of January.

Nevertheless, the paper wants us to dump the "clean break" myth, arguing – probably correctly – that Britain has years of negotiations with Brussels ahead. The question for Johnson, it says, is not how to break relations even further, but when to start repairing them.

Actually, that really is being optimistic. Johnson has neither the capability nor the understanding necessary to craft a halfway satisfactory deal with the EU and, even if he wanted to, his idiot backbenchers wouldn't let him.

It is not even certain that if the man does agree a "skinny" deal over the next few days, that his own party will give him an easy ride, leaving Mr "take back control" to turn to Starmer for support. But whatever deal we do end up with – if any – it will not be until Johnson has gone that we'll be able to have any meaningful talks with the EU – even if then.

And, if Kent is reconciled to becoming the "toilet of England", Westminster is already the cesspit, with emptying long overdue.

Also published on Turbulent Times.






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