The UK and Europea Union opened talks over their future relationship after Brexit – just weeks after Britain finally officially left the bloc on January 31 after several months of delays. Boris Johnson wants an FTA agreed with the EU before the end of the transition period in December 2020, which he is refusing to extend. The Prime Minister is also threatening to walk away from the negotiating table in June if there is little chance of achieving the FTA the UK desires.
Leading EU figureheads, including chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and French President Emmanuel Macron, have reacted furiously to what they see as extremely hardline tactics from Mr Johnson and his negotiating team.
But political experts have warned one crucial aspect that has arguably created the most friction between the two sides the most could eventually be the “deal breaker” that seals the perfect agreement for both sides.
The issue of fishing access has already highlighted the deep cracks and divides in negotiations between London and Brussels.
Mr Johnson has vowed to “take back control of our waters” from the EU, promising to do everything possible to protect UK fishermen in trade talks.
But this has infuriated the EU who are demanding fishermen from the bloc are allowed to continue to fish in lucrative British waters after Brexit.
Wyn Grant, politics professor at Warwick University, warned the Prime Minister his Conservative Party could lose several coastal constituencies if the UK doesn’t secure a favourable trade deal for the country’s fishermen.
He believes fishing rights are a “key issue and could be a deal breaker”, backing Mr Johnson to not relent from his hardline stance on the issue.
Mr Grant told Express.co.uk: “Fisheries are a very emotive issue, although the contribution to GDP is small.
“A number of Conservative MPs, including some in marginal constituencies, have significant numbers of voters from the fishing community.
“This extends beyond the fishermen themselves and includes the auctioneers, those who maintain the boats and the processing sector. Communities like Newlyn in Cornwall are highly reliant on fishing which is seen as a way of life.
“Around 70 per cent of the UK catch is landed in the EU, so if tariffs were applied, the industry could be hard hit. Any delays in Channel crossings would be problematic.
“This is a key issue for France, Spain and the Netherlands who current use what would become British waters. Any prolonged disruption or raised tariffs would lead to financial damage and job losses.”
He added: “I think fishing rights are a key issue and could be a deal breaker. It will be difficult for Boris Johnson to back down because of the likely reaction from Conservative voters, even to agreeing a compromise.
“It should also be noted that a considerable proportion of the industry is in Scotland, so it has the potential to further inflame Anglo-Scottish relations.”
Mr Macron has been left furious by the UK’s stubborn position over fishing, and had vowed to “fight” for his country’s fishermen in trade negotiations.
French fisherman could also reportedly use huge trawlers to block high-cross-Channel ports if their demand for fishing access to British waters is lost.
But Britain warned France that Royal Navy gunboats will be deployed to stop EU fishing boats from entering UK waters.
Environment Secretary George Eustice warned the Royal Navy now has three additional vessels and the Home Office will provide a further four, while the Government can also call in help from the private sector.
He insisted the UK is taking “sufficient” measures to protect British waters, telling House of Lords committee an additional 50 fishery protection officers have been recruited and there will be “aerial surveillance”.
Earlier this month, Mr Johnson was warned British voters will turn on him if he sacrifices UK fishing for a favourable post-Brexit trade deal with the EU.
Campaign Group Fishing For Leave told Express.co.uk: “The real cost of sacrificing fishing is political. It would enrage the public who see fishing as totemic.
“It would cost the Conservatives a host of coastal constituencies, particularly those in Scotland that underpin the Union.
“The sacrifice of fishing could tip the scales to a second referendum on Scottish independence and the break up of Britain, which is a far higher cost than anything the EU is offering.”
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