Britain offers EU fishing concession as part of Brexit sweetener

Britain has offered a three-year transition period for European fishing fleets to allow them to prepare for the post-Brexit changes as part of an 11th-hour deal sweetener.

The catches of EU fishermen would be “phased down” between 2021 and 2024 to offer time for European coastal communities to adapt to the changes.

The lengthy transition period is contained in a new negotiating paper tabled ahead of the current round of negotiations in Brussels between the teams respectively led by the UK’s chief negotiator, David Frost, and his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier.

The idea of a phase-down period had been floated previously but details had not been provided until recent days.

“We have a long way to go but if the other problematic issues can be sorted, it doesn’t look like fisheries will stand in the way of an agreement”, said one senior EU diplomat.

Ireland’s foreign minister, Simon Coveney, said during a visit to Washington on Tuesday night that he believed there was a good chance of a trade deal. “The obstacles are not insurmountable,” he said. “We should be able to get this deal done.”

The UK remains fixed on replacing the common fisheries policy with a system of “zonal attachment” that would offer a significant increase in catches for British fishing fleets.

Currently, Britain’s economic zone is part of common EU waters. The UK receives a fixed share based on how much stock its fishermen caught during a reference period between 1973 and 1978.

Under the new system proposed by the UK, the two sides would agree on what percentage of shared stocks are attached to each of their European economic zones each year. Catch quotas would be organised in line with that percentage.


From Brefusal to Brexit: a history of Britain in the EU



The French president, Charles de Gaulle, vetoes Britain’s entry to EEC, accusing the UK of a “deep-seated hostility” towards the European project.


The UK decides to stay in the common market after 67% voted “yes”. Margaret Thatcher, later to be leader of the Conservative party, campaigned to remain.

‘Give us our money back’

Margaret Thatcher negotiated what became known as the UK rebate with other EU members after the “iron lady” marched into the former French royal palace at Fontainebleau to demand “our own money back” claiming for every £2 contributed we get only £1 back” despite being one of the “three poorer” members of the community.

It was a move that sowed the seeds of Tory Euroscepticism that was to later cause the Brexit schism in the party. 

The Bruges speech

Thatcher served notice on the EU community in a defining moment in EU politics in which she questioned the expansionist plans of Jacques Delors, who had remarked that 80% of all decisions on economic and social policy would be made by the European Community within 10 years with a European government in “embryo”. That was a bridge too far for Thatcher.

The cold war ends

Collapse of Berlin wall and fall of communism in eastern Europe, which would later lead to expansion of EU.

‘No, no, no’

Divisions between the UK and the EU deepened with Thatcher telling the Commons in an infamous speech it was ‘no, no, no’ to what she saw as Delors’ continued power grab. Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper ratchets up its opposition to Europe with a two-fingered “Up yours Delors” front page.

Black Wednesday

A collapse in the pound forced prime minister John Major and the then chancellor Norman Lamont to pull the UK out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism.

Maastricht treaty

Tory rebels vote against the treaty that paved the way for the creation of the European Union. John Major won the vote the following day in a pyrrhic victory. 

Repairing the relationship

Tony Blair patches up the relationship. Signs up to social charter and workers’ rights.


Nigel Farage elected an MEP and immediately goes on the offensive in Brussels. “Our interests are best served by not being a member of this club,” he said in his maiden speech. “The level playing field is about as level as the decks of the Titanic after it hit an iceberg.”

The euro

Chancellor Gordon Brown decides the UK will not join the euro.

EU enlarges to to include eight countries of the former eastern bloc including Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

EU expands again, allowing Romania and Bulgaria into the club.

Migrant crisis

Anti-immigration hysteria seems to take hold with references to “cockroches” by Katie Hopkins in the Sun and tabloid headlines such as “How many more can we take?” and “Calais crisis: send in the dogs”.

David Cameron returns from Brussels with an EU reform package – but it isn’t enough to appease the Eurosceptic wing of his own party

Brexit referendum

The UK votes to leave the European Union, triggering David Cameron’s resignation and paving the way for Theresa May to become prime minister

Britain leaves the EU

After years of parliamentary impasse during Theresa May’s attempt to get a deal agreed, the UK leaves the EU.

A failure to agree annually on catches could lead to EU fleets being locked out of British waters. France is particularly concerned by the impact on its fishing communities and has taken a “maximalist” position that the status quo should be protected.

While the policy would deliver the extra catches promised as a Brexit bonus, it is understood the government is also making new commitments on maintaining EU sustainability standards and cooperation on the collection of data.

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The offer was part of five new draft negotiating documents submitted by the government, including legal texts on fisheries, the “level playing field”, law enforcement and judicial cooperation, civil nuclear cooperation and social security coordination.

An EU official said: “We can confirm that we received additional documents from the UK. We are studying them.”

According to Brussels sources, the UK’s paper on state aid, still the most contentious of the outstanding issues, offered to lay out a series of “principles” on controlling domestic subsidies.

The EU said the paper offered hope that the UK would build on provisions in the recently signed UK-Japan deal. The trade deal with Tokyo prevents either side from indefinitely guaranteeing the debts of struggling companies or providing open-ended bailouts without approved restructuring plans.

But the paper failed to offer appropriate “governance” proposals that would allow Brussels to keep the UK to its pledges, EU sources said.

The EU wanted to ensure that any commitments were seen through and that in the event of a breach, parts of the trade deal could be immediately suspended.

EU diplomats also said any agreement on such a method of regulating state aid would need to be taken “at the highest level”, as it would represent a significant divergence from Brussels’ proposal.

The EU has pushed for the UK to accept the bloc’s state aid rules, which do not allow unfair subsidies to be granted. The UK’s position would instead offer recourse in the event of trade being distorted.

“The UK-Japan deal is obviously now the basis but it isn’t yet enough and we need to have bite,” said one diplomatic source. A second source added that the proposal was as yet “more of the same” but that it was hoped that the week’s negotiation would flesh it out. “That is what matters,” the source said.


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