Fisheries stand-off: Stubborn EU ready to drag Brexit talks out for WEEKS despite deadline

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Luxembourg prime minister Xavier Bettel insisted the bloc remains united with its fishing states despite the looming prospect of a no-deal Brexit. And his Italian counterpart Giuseppe Conte was also standing firm, insisting the EU will not accept a deal at any price. Despite a deadline passing this week, Mr Conte said there were still “a few weeks left” and the EU would negotiate until the “last moment”. EU leaders yesterday said they were concerned with the progress in the trade talks with Britain “was still not sufficient for an agreement”.

They blocked Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, from intensifying the process until Boris Johnson agrees to compromise.

The dramatic developments came after Emmanuel Macron convinced the bloc to significantly harden its demands for continued access to Britain’s fishing grounds.

Mr Johnson will now decide whether to walk away from the wrangling in a statement later today.

In Brussels, Mr Bettel today said: “We stand in solidarity with the countries for which fishing is important as any other subject can be important as well.

“We are waiting for Boris Johnson’s reaction today. You can’t put one single thing on a scale.

“We have fisheries and they have access to our market. The scale must be balanced. We can’t have winners and losers here.”

Mr Conte said the EU wants to still avoid a no-deal scenario in the coming weeks.

He insisted the bloc would continue working beyond any deadlines set by Mr Johnson in order to strike a deal.

“The situation is very complex and we have a few days to conclude this agreement,” Mr Conte said.

“Only a few weeks left, but we are united. The member states are united. We want a deal. We will work until the last moment for that, but we do not want an agreement at any price.

“We are very serious about this. We want equal conditions and effective governance. This negotiation could have a positive or a negative result, but we want to avoid a negative one.”

Despite the looming threat of a British walkout in the Brexit talks, Irish premier Micheal Martin said a deal is still possible.

He said: “We received a very good assessment of the current state of negotiations from our chief negotiator Michel Barnier, and he emphasised the need for mutual respect in these negotiations.

“And I think he was given the necessary flexibility to continue with the negotiations on behalf of the European Council to ensure a comprehensive, fair and free trade deal between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also hinted at a possible deal in the coming weeks, insisting both sides need to be flexible.

He said: “There is a deal to be done but there needs to be flexibility on both sides.

“It feels a little bit lacking from the European Union.”

Mr Raab said future access to British waters for EU boats and the regulatory level playing field remain the key sticking points.

“The issues are really narrow now,” he added.

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