The fisheries dispute could break the Brexit trade talks with the European Union, which is unwilling to lower its demand for continued access to UK coastal waters.
Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel insisted that the bloc remain united with its fishing states despite the looming prospect of a no-deal Brexit. His Italian counterpart Giuseppe Conte also stood firm and insisted that the EU would not accept a deal at any price. Despite a deadline passed this week, Mr Conte said there were “a few weeks” left and the EU would negotiate until the “last moment”. EU leaders yesterday said they were concerned about the progress made in trade talks with the UK, “which are still insufficient for an agreement”.
They prevented Michel Barnier, the EU negotiator, from stepping up the process until Boris Johnson agrees to a compromise.
The dramatic developments came after Emmanuel Macron convinced the bloc to step up its demands for continuous access to British fishing grounds.
Mr Johnson will now decide in a statement later today whether to move away from the dispute.
In Brussels today, Bettel said: “We are in solidarity with the countries for which fishing is important, as any other issue can be important too.
“We are waiting for Boris Johnson’s reaction today. You can’t put a single thing on a scale.
“We have fishing and they have access to our market. The scale must be balanced. We can’t have winners and losers here. ”
Mr Conte said the EU would continue to avoid a no-deal scenario in the coming weeks.
He insisted that the block continue working beyond the deadlines set by Mr Johnson to close a deal.
“The situation is very complex and we have a few days to finalize this agreement,” said Conte.
“Only a few more weeks, but we agree. The Member States are united. We want a deal. We’ll work for it until the last moment, but we don’t want an agreement at any cost.
“We mean that very seriously. We want a level playing field and effective governance. This negotiation could have a positive or a negative outcome, but we want to avoid a negative one. “
Despite the looming threat of a British strike in the Brexit talks, Irish Prime Minister Michael Martin said a deal was still possible.
He said: “We received a very good assessment of the current state of negotiations from our chief negotiator Michel Barnier, and he emphasized the need for mutual respect in these negotiations.
“And I think he was given the flexibility necessary to continue negotiations on behalf of the European Council to ensure a comprehensive, fair and free trade agreement between the UK and the European Union.”
Foreign Minister Dominic Raab also hinted at a possible deal in the coming weeks, insisting that both sides need to be flexible.
He said, “A deal has to be made, but there has to be flexibility on both sides.
“It feels a little flawed in the European Union.”
Mr Raab said future access of EU boats to UK waters and the playing field at regulatory level remained the major sticking points.
“The problems are really tight now,” he added.