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Talks between the EU and UK remain on a knife-edge, but it has emerged that Lord Frost is set to back down on fishing quotas should the bloc follow suit in some of their demands. The UK is reportedly ready to lower its demand for a 60 percent reduction in the EU catch to 35 percent, signifying a major backtrack. The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, had previously asked for a 25 percent reduction in the bloc’s catch.
But the demands set by the EU were described previously by Lord Frost as being “manifestly unbalanced”, and that the terms would be “incompatible with the UK’s future as an independent coastal state”.
After each round of talks, Lord Frost has taken a similar stance, making Monday’s breakthrough even more surprising.
In May, he argued: “We cannot agree arrangements that are manifestly unbalanced and against the interests of the UK fishing industry.
“It is hard to understand why the EU insists on an ideological approach which makes it more difficult to reach a mutually beneficial agreement.
Frost admitted EU demands are ‘manifestly imbalanced’ despite claims UK will back down
Brexit news: David Frost and EU counterpart Michel Barnier
“We very much need a change in EU approach for the next negotiation round.”
At the European Commission, where the update on Brexit talks was given, Brussels maintained its stance that there be “status quo” access to UK waters.
This, Mr Barnier said, would be similar to the continuation of the current Common Fisheries Policy.
Lord Frost sustained this position, as he told the Government that “the UK’s sovereignty, over our laws, our courts, or fishing waters, is not up for discussion”, when pressed for an update on trade negotiations in August.
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Brexit: Fishing has become a major sticking point in talks
He added that the UK “will not accept anything which compromises it – just as we aren’t looking for anything which threatens the integrity of the EU’s single market”.
The talks would subsequently continue to hinge on fishing, the level playing field and state aid, but offering an update on Twitter in November, Lord Frost again claimed a deal “was possible”, adding: “But for a deal to be possible it must fully respect UK sovereignty.
“That is not just a word – it has practical consequences.
“That includes: controlling our borders; deciding ourselves on a robust and principled subsidy control system; and controlling our fishing waters.”
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Brexit: Fishing For Leave have been critical of talks
Lord Frost’s previous comments underline how important fishing has become as a vital crux within trade talks.
While the UK maintains it wants to take back control of its waters, the EU are unhappy at the prospect of being offered no chance to fish in the lucrative British seas.
The Netherlands and France have been particular opponents of this.
Both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, have said in recent days they were still hopeful a deal can be struck – despite there being just days left before a deal must be reached, and then enforced.
Michel Barnier in London in October for Brexit talks
Should no deal be reached between the two sides, the UK will begin trading with the EU on World Organisation Terms on December 31, a structure of trading similar to Australia’s relationship with the bloc.
However, fishermen argue that if no deal is found, the UK’s fishing industry will benefit massively as it will be able to fish untroubled by their counterparts in Brussels.
Senior economist Harry Western explained that the UK fishing industry is “hugely disadvantaged by the current allocation of catches in the UK’s territorial waters”.
He argued that analysis on the waters showed a “reallocation of catches based on the ‘zonal attachment’ principle” may result in the UK’s fish landings increasing by an impressive 50 to 60 percent.
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The expert added in a column for Briefings for Britain: “Such gains would massively outweigh any losses resulting from a rise in EU trade barriers to UK fish and fish products exports.”
Fishing for Leave, an independent group of pro-Brexit fishermen, also demanded that no leeway be given to the EU in the battle to maintain its rights in British waters.
The group said in May: “Britain holds the whip hand, EU consumers need/are dependent on fish caught in British waters.
“We must not back down from being achingly close to righting the wrong inflicted upon fishing by [former Prime Minister] Ted Heath and regaining our greatest natural resource to exorcise an injustice and rejuvenate British coastal communities with a £6 and £8billion industry.”
The group were referring to Mr Heath, who betrayed fishermen in 1973 by granting more access to those in the European Economic Community (EEC) – the precursor to the EU – to British fishing grounds.