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Britain hopes Germany's Merkel can unlock Brexit free-trade deal

By JONATHAN POWELL in Londona | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-10-27 09:21
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Britain's prime minister, Boris Johnson, stands aboard a fishing boat in Peterhead, Scotland. Fishing is a key part of trade talks between the UK and the EU. DUNCAN MCGLYNN/POOL/REUTERS

Britain is hoping Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, can persuade France to compromise on fishing rights and allow progress toward a free-trade agreement with the European Union.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper cited sources close to the negotiations that said President Emmanuel Macron of France had adopted an "egregious" position on the issue.

Fishing rights in British waters have been a focus in negotiations between the United Kingdom and the EU.

The UK is seeking more control of its own waters while the EU side, with pressure from France, has concerns for its fishing trawler trade.

The French president has admitted he is playing "the bad cop" and has said he would rather see no trade deal than back down on the issue.

France's Europe Minister Clement Beaune has said that Paris is determined to ensure the EU is "really tough" with Britain.

Under an arrangement proposed by the UK side, fishing quotas for the bloc would be agreed annually.

A British government source told the Telegraph that the UK is hoping Merkel will persuade France to back down.

The Whitehall source said: "We are relatively optimistic but that doesn't mean it won't end in tears. Fisheries is the biggest thing. We are hoping Merkel can unlock Macron on fisheries."

Bruno Cautres, a political analyst at the Cevipof think tank, told the newspaper that Macron is facing opposition to his hardline stance on fishing from Merkel and other EU leaders.

He said: "Symbolically, fisheries are a big issue. It would be very difficult for Macron to veto a deal if France found itself isolated in the EU. This issue is particularly important for France but not for all member-states."

Hopes for a trade agreement were boosted after the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier decided to stay in London for longer than had been planned to continue formal talks. Barnier, who arrived in the capital on Thursday, extended his stay in the UK until Wednesday, with talks set to continue in Brussels for the rest of the week.

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, the British government's Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said the decision to prolong the negotiations was a "very good sign".

Lewis said: "The fact that Michel Barnier has outlined in the last week or so that they are going to come back and do these intensive negotiations, he recognizes the EU do need to move, and that he is staying through to next week, is totally a very good sign.

"I think there is a good chance that we can get a deal but I think it is for the EU to understand that it is for them to move as well."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently warned the UK to prepare for a no-deal outcome to the talks, and blamed the EU for the lack of progress.

The Brexit transition period ends on Dec 31, and any proposed deal would need to be in place by the middle of next month at the latest, giving time for it to ratified by Parliament.

Leo Varadkar, deputy prime minister of the Republic of Ireland, told RTE radio on Sunday that he believed Britain and the EU would secure a free-trade deal in the coming weeks.

"It's by no means guaranteed but I think on the balance of probabilities it will be possible to agree a free-trade agreement with the UK which means there will be no quotas and no tariff s," he said.

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