Wed. Dec 7th, 2022


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EU unity crumbles! Infighting breaks out over no deal threat as Brexit hits critical stage

4 min read

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Deep divisions emerged as Michel Barnier was pushed within “millimetres” of the red lines handed to him by the bloc’s leaders. Senior Brussels sources claimed the EU’s Brexit chief was on the verge of making dangerous concessions in the row over future access to Britain’s coastal waters and state aid rules. The EU and UK teams are said to be within days of a decision on whether a future relationship pact can be struck.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen could be called upon to haggle over the final compromises.

Irish premier Micheal Martin said: “We are now at a very critical and sensitive point of the negotiations. I want to see a deal done and I believe a deal is possible.

“It’s clear to me that there is a landing zone for an agreement.”

Stefaan De Rynck, a key aide to Mr Barnier, said: “We are at the end of a marathon run. I cannot guarantee that we’ll reach the finishing line with an agreement.

“It’s certainly my feeling both sides are committed to finding a deal. Significant divergences remain. As of today the outcome of the process is uncertain.”

One EU diplomat warned several leaders were queuing up to vote down any unacceptable compromises made by Mr Barnier.

The insider said: “Leaders always have the possibility to reject the outcome and if the mandate is not adhered to they have every right to do so.”

In a sign of growing tensions between EU states, Ireland accused hardliners of making a “very dangerous” threat to pursue a no deal Brexit.

Fuelled by France, some leaders want Mr Barnier to walk away from the negotiations at the end of the week unless Boris Johnson makes significant concessions to get the trade deal over the line.

But Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney warned there is no guarantee Downing Street will return to the negotiating table in the new year.

He claimed a no deal outcome would leave Dublin in the “cross fire” as Brussels and London’s relationship is plunged into an acrimonious “blame game” over the failed trade talks.

Irish PM Mr Martin urged his EU counterparts to drop their threats and back Mr Barnier to secure a deal.

Speaking at an online event, Mr Martin said: “We can’t all be negotiators at the table, we’ve got to have faith and trust in the negotiating team to get a balanced deal over the line.”

Mr Coveney said: “There’s a good chance we can get a deal across the line in the next few days.

“Closing out a negotiation as complex as this one is never going to be easy.”

He added: “The Irish government will be doing everything we can to try to find a way with the EU and UK teams to get a deal that Ireland can live with.

MUST READ: Barnier faces EU mutiny amid fears he could cave to get Brexit deal

“This means getting a fair deal for both sides on fisheries, which has proven really, really difficult.”

With the wrangling over the Brexit trade deal set to go to the wire, restless EU states were pushing for Mr Barnier to finally reveal chunks of the legal text.

Some fear their main priorities could be discarded by the bloc’s Brexit chief as part of a last-minute trade-off over fishing rights and common standards.

The diplomat said: “There are different areas of concern on where we are in the negotiations.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was said to be ready to agree to a compromise to cement her legacy before leaving office.

But French President Macron fears the concessions could see his fishermen largely locked out of Britain’s coastal waters.

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On a visit to Boulogne, French prime minister Jean Castex said: “We obviously hope to obtain an agreement under the best possible conditions, but not under any conditions. And certainly not under the conditions where fishing would be sacrificed as an adjustment variable.

“If we fall back on French waters, there is a risk of overexploitation, in a few months we will destroy the resource.”

French MEP Nathalie Loiseau, a close ally of Mr Macron, said: “The British proposals are hurting the interests of European fishermen to an extent that is really not acceptable.”

She added: “Nobody is denying the return to sovereignty of the UK on its waters. The question being, does it include the fish in the water?

“Brexit was supposed to bring a better future for the UK, you may agree with this or not, it was not supposed to hurt the European Union.”

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