Brexit Deal Imminent, Boris Haggling over Scale of Fishing Surrender



All signs appear to point to a Brexit deal being announced imminently, with an official announcement waiting on some last-minute wrangling over the scale of Boris Johnson’s surrender to the European Union on fisheries.

Both the European Commission and the British government are briefing that they believe the deal will be sealed early on Thursday, with an appearance by Boris Johnson and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen scheduled for last night and a press conference by Johnson at 7 a.m. on Thursday morning being pushed back as the two sides haggled “over individual fish species”, according to the BBC.

What is clear, unless reports are all wildly off-base, is that Boris Johnson appears to have given up any pretence of standing firm on the repatriation of Britain’s national fishing waters — currently controlled by the EU and exploited mainly by foreign trawlers, with disastrous effects for local fishermen — but he may be able to sell diehard supporters on the idea that the negotiations have been a success because Brussels had demanded even more than Britain will give up.

The deal which now looks set to emerge on fisheries, per the Telegraph, will result in a years-long “transition” — on top of the almost four years the EU has already had since the British people voted to Leave the European Union in 2016 — for EU fishermen, with only some very limited repatriation of British fish and fishing revenue to the United Kingdom:

Britain offered the EU a three-year transition period but demanded it return 80 per cent of its quotas for catching fish in UK waters. The EU countered by demanding unfettered access to UK waters for 14 years in return for giving back just 15 per cent of its quotas.

During months of talks, Brussels came down to 10 years, then eight, leaving the sides haggling over the five-year gap between them, as well as the division of the catch between Britain and the EU in the years before the UK takes back full control of its waters.

Mr Johnson agreed that the EU would only repatriate 25 per cent of the value of fish caught in its waters during a five and a half year transition period, sources in Brussels said. The UK had originally demanded a three-year period with 80 per cent of the value, while the EU wanted a ten-year period with just 15-18 per cent. However, the EU stuck firm at 25 per cent, when the UK asked for 35 per cent.

This so-called compromise would follow what has become a familiar pattern for Brexit watchers, with the European Union making outlandish demands and the British government negotiating them down to slightly less outlandish demands and hailing this as victory — with the most obvious example being the €40 billion+ “divorce” bill Britain agreed to hand over, despite having put far more into the EU budget than it has taken out over the years, after Brussels had initially demanded nearer €100 bilion.

Johnson also appears to have agreed to something like the “level playing field” the EU had been demanding — allowing the EU to hit the UK with tariffs if it diverges from the bloc’s onerous regulations in a way that makes it more competitive — by accepting in principle a so-called “rebalancing mechanism”, although this process will be overseen by a supposedly impartial arbitration panel rather than EU judges.

One last-minute snag appears to be a demand by the EU for a loophole which would “enable EU countries to be given as much state aid as they wanted” as long as it is the EU which provides it — with state aid from the British government and the national governments of EU member-states strictly limited.

It is believed that the EU will dispense with its own rules — as it is wont to do — requiring the European Parliament to ratify trade deals, with the member-states applying the Brexit deal on a provisional basis as soon as it is done, while Johson will attempt to ram it through the House of Commons and House of Lords in a single day, with limited time for Brexiteers to examine the fine detail.

“Like everyone else, I don’t trust Downing Street an inch right now. Obviously we will have to wait until any deal is published, but what we cannot have from the Prime Minister is another cop-out,” one senior Tory told the Telegraph.

“The agreement on fish is going to be hugely significant because it has nothing to do with a trade deal – it’s about our territory,” they added.

Some Brexiteers have questioned the wisdom of Britain bending over backwards with concessions to the EU in exchange for free trade in goods and, in a more limited way, services, considering the bloc has a massive trade surplus with Britain and will be the greater beneficiary by far of tariff-free commerce.

“We already know that as a trade deal it is likely to be a poor bargain; and one we do not necessarily need,” explained top barrister Martin Howe QC recently.

“Its central feature is zero tariffs and no quotas on goods. Because of the EU’s huge trade surplus, it has the advantage. EU exporters would get more than double the value of tariff concessions as UK exporters get on their exports.”

Follow Jack Montgomery on Twitter: @JackBMontgomery
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