Just when you thought there was a chance of a deal, Boris Johnson has demanded that British fishermen should double the catch from coastal waters. EU negotiators claim that one in three European fishing boats would be lost at sea, if the UK haul increases. They have rejected the British proposal out of hand.
What's the fuss about fishing? Fishing is worth about £500 million to the UK economy. That's less than the annual turnover of Harrods, according to the Times and less than half a day's borrowing for the government according to simple mathematics.
Fishing has a symbolic resonance in the UK and in Europe, particularly France and Spain. French fishermen are effective lobbyists and Macron faces an election in 2022. For the Prime Minister, the Leave campaign was supported by fishing groups. Fishing became a symbol of taking back control. It remains a significant stumbling block to a deal.
Additional problems remain about the "level playing field" and the issue of state aid. The Prime Minister is keen to ensure the UK government will have the ability to intervene in industrial strategy. On what terms, no one in the Conservative Part can be quite sure. "Picking winners", "supporting losers" "investing in tech" the agenda is a little unclear. History records the UK Government track record on such matters has been hazardous at best. Brussels requires assurances, that Britain will not use subsidies to undercut EU companies. To date, the government has failed to explain, to the EU and to Parliament, just what the plans and platform would be for state intervention and engagement.
Time is running out. Michel Barnier, the EU's lead negotiator, has warned a deal must be agreed by the end of October, if it is to be ratified in Brussels by the end of the year. In no deal is agreed, the UK and the EU will trade on WTO terms.
Recent rounds of negotiations have failed to lead to a breakthrough. Ian Duncan Smith said, "The EU has shown bad faith" adding "The EU has to be prepared to bend. If they don't bend, they don't get a deal" ...
David Davis called on Boris Johnson to repudiate the Withdrawal agreement. No trade deal, no divorce settlement and no divorce bill. "We can repudiate it and see them in court" ... socially distanced of course ...
The Saturday Economist
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