Barnier wants ‘punishment clause’ to hit UK with sanctions if Boris locks EU boats out

Brexit: Nick Ferrari grills Keir Starmer on fishing rights

The Brussels diplomat set out plans to restrict access to the EU’s market for British firms if European fishermen are largely locked out of British waters in the future. In a series of private Brussels briefings, the Frenchman accused Downing Street of “backtracking” on its own proposals for a three-year transition period for fishing rights. Under the original plan, the extremely generous catch shares European trawlermen enjoy would be gradually phased down.

Mr Barnier told MEPs that Britain would have to face “consequences” for any future decisions to close its fishing grounds to European vessels.

The Frenchman raised the prospect of economic sanctions – such as trade tariffs – being introduced to counter any such moves by Downing Street.

An EU source said: “The EU will maintain the link between fish and access to the internal market. Should access to fishing grounds be phased out significantly over time so may access to relevant parts of the agreement.”

Despite the row over fisheries, Mr Barnier told a meeting of EU27 ambassadors a Brexit trade agreement could emerge this week if both sides can overcome their differences.

Setting out “three scenarios” for how the talks could pan out, he said a deal could be finalised in the “next few days” if a fudge can be found to solve the row over access to Britain’s coastal waters.

But the Frenchman told colleagues he was prepared for the talks to run right up to the December 31 deadline and warned European capitals to brace for a “short no deal period” if both sides need to complete the ratification process in the New Year.

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In a meeting with EU27 ambassadors, Mr Barnier revealed the legal text for the Brexit deal has been “largely” completed while they thrash out agreements over the main sticking points.

He said there had been “good progress” in a number of areas of the agreement, including on the final arrangements for policing the pact, according to a diplomatic note seen by Express.co.uk.

Mr Barnier told MEPs the so-called “level playing field” remains the most difficult hurdle to overcome and could take negotiations right up to the end of the year to finalise a compromise.

He claimed Britain was asking for Brussels to offer more concessions on fishing rights to “compensate” for Downing Street’s recent moves on the level playing field.

Speaking today at an OECD event in Paris, she said: “First of all there is movement. That is good… We are talking about a new beginning with old friends.

“We are on the very last mile to go. But it is an essential one. We want a level playing field, not only at the start, but also over time.

“This is the architecture we are building. We are fine about the architecture itself, but the details in it – do they really fit? These are crucial points because it is a matter of fairness, fair competition and we want to ensure that.”

Brussels insiders were buoyed by the progress after a spate of recent gloom-ridden briefings by Mr Barnier left them fearing a no-deal Brexit.

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A diplomatic source said: “No one asked anything about no deal and that was informed by the tone of Mr Barnier’s briefing. He was a little less gloomy than I was expecting. 

“If both sides can come out of their trenches on fish, Barnier said there could be a deal this week.”

An EU diplomat added: “There might now be a narrow path to an agreement visible – if negotiators can clear the remaining hurdles in the next few days.

“There has been some progress in the negotiations over the last few days, but – sometimes substantial – gaps still need to be bridged in important areas like fisheries, governance and level playing field. 

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“The EU will continue negotiations with its constructive, calm and result oriented approach. Success depends on whether London also wants a fair deal and is ready to accept the inherent trade-offs.”

Despite a new wave of positivity, Mr Barnier’s spokesman said a no-deal Brexit still remained a possible outcome.

The spokesman said: “We’re of course aware that time is short. The more time that goes by the less likely it is that we will have a deal in place on the first of January, that’s just a statement of fact.

“I cannot say what may or may not happen over these days. But what I can say, though, is that we are fully dedicated to trying to reach a deal with the UK.”

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