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The negotiating teams, led by David Frost and Michel Barnier, have been locked in crunch talks for the past two weeks in a desperate bid to make a breakthrough and meet the mid-November deadline for an agreement to be in place. But no breakthrough had been made, particularly on fishing, with both sides giving major hints over the possibility and preference of a no deal outcome. The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Mr Barnier had said “very serious divergences” remained in trade talks with Britain following the latest round of negotiations in Brussels on Wednesday.
Lord Frost also tweeted: “Progress made, but I agree with @MichelBarnier that wide divergences remain on some core issues.
Britain is insisting on annual catch negotiations under the principle of “zonal attachment” but the EU demanding a longer-term perspective for its fishing industry and more specific numerical targets for some 100 species.
The UK also wants a separate agreement on fisheries, while Brussels has insisted it must be part of any wider free trade deal.
Boris Johnson has continued to vow Britain will “take back control of our waters” as part of a wider promise to protect UK fishermen in any trade deal with the EU.
But Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat MP for the coastal constituency of Orkney and Shetland, has warned: “The UK has more to lose in taking negotiations down to the wire.
“The closer it gets to the transition period deadline of December 31 without an agreement on fishing, then the greater risk the UK will blink and they will hand over fishing rights to the EU that they shouldn’t.
“We are still in the same position we have been in for months and it is still down to the political will of the Government to deliver on the promises that they made.
“If they had actually had the wit and political commitment to include fisheries in the Withdrawal Agreement, we wouldn’t find ourselves in this position today.”
Mr Carmichael, who is also the Liberal Democrats Home Affairs spokesperson, warned the the political consequences for the Prime Minister and his Conservative Party Government would be “absolutely enormous” if they offer the EU too many compromises on fishing.
He also warned having worked so hard to raise hopes of a deal for UK fishermen and vowing not to betray them in negotiations, the Tories may never be forgiven if they suddenly performed a shcok U-turn.
The Liberal Democrat MP said: “The political consequences of offering too many compromises to the EU or betraying the UK fishing indsutry would be absolutely enormous.
“This comes nearly 50 years since Ted Heath’s government described the UK fishing industry as being expendable.
“For years, the fishing industry felt as if nobody in Government was listening to them and that nobody in Government was committed to the future of their industrry
“If having raised hopes things are going to be different but then these hopes are then dashed, the Tories will not be forgiven for a generation, if ever
“Realising the true importance of the UK fishing industry will never come too late, but the later the government leaves it, the more difficult it becomes.
Mr Carmichael added: “We are negotiating with people who for the last 40 years have seen Britain as a country that would always compromise when its fishing industry is involved, so you already begin with a large disadvantage.
“The point to show you were serious was right at the start of the negotitions, and not leaving that until the last minute, which I fear works to the advantage of the EU as opposed to the UK.”
Following the conclusion of talks with UK counterparts in Brussels on Wednesday, Mr Barnier suggested the bloc would now be prepared to accept a no deal outcome rather than yield on its key demands.
He tweeted: “Despite EU efforts to find solutions, very serious divergences remain in level playing field, governance & fisheries.
“These are essential conditions for any economic partnership.
“The EU is prepared for all scenarios.”
One EU diplomat said: “The UK does not seem to be engaging sufficiently on key issues like level playing field, governance and fisheries.”
Another added: “The UK does not seem to be engaging sufficiently on key issues.
“Given this situation, a no-deal outcome can’t be excluded.”
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