Why a UK-French spat over fishing rights may trigger a no-deal Brexit

Disagreements over territory threaten to sink last-minute negotiations

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - SEPTEMBER 01:Fishermen load their catch of horse mackerel on a fishing boat in the early hours of the morning on September 1, 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey. September 1 marks th
(Image credit: 2016 Getty Images)

France will show “no weakness” during crunch negotiations over Brexit fishing rights, President Emmanuel Macron’s Europe minister has warned.

As Britain and the EU prepare to return to the negotiating table in a bid to hammer out a free trade deal, Clement Beaune insisted that France “will not accept a bad deal and a bad deal in fisheries in particular. We will have no weakness on this issue of fisheries, that is clear.”

The warning follows a phone call on Saturday between Boris Johnson and Macron during which the UK leader threatened to quit the talks if the “shape” of a trade deal is not in sight by Thursday’s EU summit in Brussels, The Telegraph reports.

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A defiant Beaune yesterday told “the UK and his EU allies that Paris would not allow French fishermen to be sacrificed just to get the free trade agreement over the line”, the newspaper adds.

Some EU countries, including Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands, are expected to support France on the issue, but others, such as Germany, believe a zero tariff trade deal is more important than the demands of the fishing sector.

The dispute centres on the question of who will have the right to catch what and in which waters when the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December. Boats from member states land about eight times more fish in UK waters than British fishermen do in EU waters, but the UK is dependent on the European export market.

Economics aside, fishing has also long been “an emotional issue” in the UK’s relationship with the bloc, and Brexiteers “see it as a symbol of sovereignty that will now be regained”, says the BBC.

And that means an industry worth a “minuscule share of GDP - an economic sprat, a mere tiddler - could still sink the talks” this week, says Politico.

“As things stand, a poisonous mixture of political over-bidding and technical complexity threatens to capsize the entire post-Brexit negotiation,” the news site adds.

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Chas Newkey-Burden has been part of The Week Digital team for more than a decade and a journalist for 25 years, starting out on the irreverent football weekly 90 Minutes, before moving to lifestyle magazines Loaded and Attitude. He was a columnist for The Big Issue and landed a world exclusive with David Beckham that became the weekly magazine’s bestselling issue. He now writes regularly for The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent, Metro, FourFourTwo and the i new site. He is also the author of a number of non-fiction books.