EU leaders meet for crunch Brexit talks as PM weighs up walking away

Will Boris walk away from trade talks with Brussels? EU leaders meeting for crunch summit today and PM will decide ‘next steps’ tomorrow after he is left ‘disappointed’ at lack of progress and Germany ‘warns France not to scupper a deal over fish’

  • Crunch EU summit gets underway in Brussels today with Brexit on the agenda 
  • Boris Johnson had set the summit as a deadline for a breakthrough in trade talks
  • Last night PM said he was ‘disappointed that more progress had not been made’ 
  • Fishing rights still stumbling block to deal with France and Germany now split 

Boris Johnson could walk away from post-Brexit trade talks with the EU tomorrow after he expressed ‘disappointment’ at the lack of progress made before his negotiating deadline. 

The Prime Minister wanted the outline of a deal to be in place by today’s crunch summit of the European Council in Brussels when EU leaders will meet to discuss the state of the negotiations.  

But Britain and the bloc have been unable to break the deadlock in a number of key areas, with the PM now due to ‘reflect’ on the outcome of the summit before setting out his ‘next steps’. 

Mr Johnson could opt to quit the talks if he believes a deal is not in sight, putting the UK and EU on course to split without a trade accord at the end of the transition period in December. 

But he has reportedly been advised by Lord Frost not to walk away, with the UK’s chief negotiator apparently of the belief that a deal is still possible, potentially within the next two weeks. 

It came amid a growing split between Germany and France over post-Brexit fishing rights – one of the main stumbling blocks to a deal being done. 

Berlin believes the hardline stance taken by Paris on the issue could sink the entire trade deal, with French President Emmanuel Macron under pressure to compromise. 

Boris Johnson set today’s meeting of the European Council as the deadline for having the outline of a post-Brexit trade deal in place with the EU

But the two sides remain split on a number of key issues amid fears that Emmanuel Macron’s hardline stance on fishing rights could sink the deal

Why the complex issue of UK-EU fishing rights is leaving Brexit talks floundering in cold water 

Each country has an Exclusive Economic Zone which can extend up to 200 nautical miles from the coast. 

That country has special fishing rights over that area. 

However, in the EU each country’s Exclusive Economic Zone is effectively merged into one joint EU zone. 

All fishing activity within that zone is then regulated by the bloc’s controversial Common Fisheries Policy which dictates how many of each type of fish can be caught.

The joint EU zone is open to fishermen from every member state. 

But after the Brexit transition period the UK will regain sole control of its Exclusive Economic Zone and will be able to decide which countries can fish there and how much they can catch. 

The Brexit comments made by Mr Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at today’s summit will be watched closely by Number 10 because they will help inform the PM’s decision on what will happen next.  

Any movement from Mr Macron on fishing would prompt fresh optimism that a deal could yet be agreed but if he maintains his red lines then Mr Johnson could feel it is time to cut his losses. 

Mr Macron wants to preserve the same level of access to UK waters for French trawlers as they have now. 

But Downing Street is adamant that British boats will be given priority after the transition period.

Germany is increasingly concerned the fishing disagreement could scupper the overall talks with Berlin pointing out that a no deal split could actually leave French boats with no access to British waters.

A German government source told The Express: ‘Everybody knows that if there is no deal then European quota in British waters is zero – now it’s 100.’ 

The two sides are also still unable to come to an agreement on so-called ‘level playing field’ arrangements on EU rules and on the governance of the trade deal. 

Mr Johnson said on September 7 that ‘there needs to be an agreement with our European friends by the time of the European Council on October 15 if it’s going to be in force by the end of the year’.

October 15 has now slipped to October 16 as the PM waits to weigh up the outcome of the European Council. 

EU member states are due to discuss the state of the Brexit talks with chief negotiator Michel Barnier before dinner this evening. 

Mr Johnson held talks with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michell last night but there was no breakthrough. 

A Downing Street spokesperson said: ‘The leaders discussed the latest state of play of the negotiations on our future relationship with the EU, ahead of the October European Council.

‘The Prime Minister noted the desirability of a deal, but expressed his disappointment that more progress had not been made over the past two weeks.

‘The Prime Minister said that he looked forward to hearing the outcome of the European Council and would reflect before setting out the UK’s next steps in the light of his statement of 7 September.’  

This map shows the extent of the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone – the waters Britain will take back control of after Brexit. At the moment the EEZ of every EU member state is merged into one large zone which can be accessed by fishermen from all over Europe.

Many in the EU are sceptical that Mr Johnson will stick to his negotiating deadline, especially if the path to a deal is visible. 

The Times reported that Lord Frost has advised the PM that a deal could still be achieved. 

But it will likely require a shift to daily negotiations to get it done in the coming weeks, giving both sides enough time to ratify and implement the accord before the end of the transition period.

A European ambassador told The Times: ‘The deadline is really a British deadline. 

‘The heads of state and government will want to send a strong signal that they’re interested, that they want an agreement and that the negotiations should be intensified.’

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