Thursday, 3 Dec 2020

EU CAVES! Barnier forced to drop post-Brexit security punishment in major win for Boris

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Michel Barnier, the European Union’s chief negotiator, has agreed to ring-fence police and judicial cooperation from potential sanctions in the event of any future trade rows with Britain. According to EU sources, the Brussels diplomat said he would reluctantly withdraw a demand that would allow the bloc to suspend future security collaborations after any dispute over economic sections of a future relationship pact.  Allies of Mr Barnier have described the move as a significant concession in a bid to unlock the wrangling over a post-Brexit deal.

Details of the compromise emerged as the Frenchman is locked in talks with UK counterpart Lord Frost ahead of a mid-November deadline to find an agreement. 

UK and EU officials are said to be in advanced talks over the so-called “governance” mechanisms for policing any future trade and security pact.

Lord Frost, the Prime Minister’s Brexit envoy, has pushed back at demands by Brussels to ensure the bloc will have the powers to “cross-retaliate” across different sections of the deal in the event of a dispute.

Under Mr Barnier’s original plan, the EU would be able to slap Britain with trade sanctions if there is a disagreement over post-Brexit fishing rights.

But the Frenchman has conceded it would be unfair to withdraw police and judicial cooperation as part of any potential punishments.

He, however, refused to drop demands for “cross-suspension” in the areas of the so-called level-playing field, transport, energy and fisheries – essentially allowing the EU to clamp down on most sections of the agreement as part of a dispute. 

The discussions over the dispute settlement mechanisms for policing any future deal have been described as a “serious problem”, according to EU sources.

After negotiations in Brussels broke up last week both sides agreed to hold extra sessions between Mr Barnier and Lord Frost’s top deputies dedicated to the governance structures.

The subject remains one of three main sticking points preventing a significant breakthrough in the Brexit talks.

Future access to Britain’s fishing waters and controls over status subsidies also threaten to derail the negotiations.

Downing Street was forced to call for more “realism” from Brussels in recognising Britain’s status as an independent coastal state in the row over fisheries.

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Boris Johnson was said to be growing fearful the EU’s intransigent stance could sink chances of an agreement.

No10 is concerned the trade and security talks will collapse as there has been zero movement from Brussels on its hardline fishing demands.

British officials are set to warn their European counterparts there won’t be a deal unless the bloc accepts the UK’s status as an independent coastal state after the end of the year.

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Lord Frost is warning the EU’s fleet faces being blocked from British waters if there is a no-deal Brexit.

A Government spokesman said: “Unfortunately we haven’t achieved as much as we’d hoped so far during this intensive process. We will only be able to make progress if the EU accepts the reality that the UK will have the right to control access to its waters at the end of this year.

 “We are asking for a simple, separate fisheries framework agreement which reflects our rights under international law and which provides for annual negotiations over access and sharing opportunities based on the scientific principle of zonal attachment.

 “This is squarely in line with the existing precedent of the EU’s current fisheries agreement with Norway. The EU also does not seem to have realised the scale of change in fishing rights they face if there is no agreement.”

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