Fears 'short fuse' Emmanuel Macron could blow up Brexit trade deal

Fears ‘short fuse’ Emmanuel Macron could blow up Brexit trade deal as Michel Barnier ‘urges EU leaders to stand firm on demands at crunch summit next week and seek further British concessions’

  • French officials refused to back down over access to UK fishing waters yesterday
  • European affairs minister said: ‘Our fishermen will not be a bargaining chip’ 
  • Brussels negotiator Michel Barnier said it was not ‘feasible’ for European trawlers to keep the same access to UK waters as they have now

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has warned EU leaders to stand firm over a Brexit trade deal and seek further UK concessions amid fears that talks could be blown out of the water by French President Emmanuel Macron. 

Mr Barnier met UK counterpart Lord Frost in London this morning for a planned short meeting before heading back to Brussels as the clock ticks down towards Boris Johnson’s deadline for a breakthrough.

It came with less than a week to go until a European Council summit on October 15, with Boris Johnson having said he wants the outline of a trade agreement to be in place before it starts – and threatened to walk away if it is not. 

But Mr Barnier told EU ambassadors that he does not want the summit to discuss any possible compromise over areas like fishing to avoid an angry outburst by the temperamental French president.

He has form for attacking Brexit deals at summits, including in Saltzburg two years ago, where he dismissed out of hand Theresa May’s ‘Checkers Deal’.

An EU source told the Times: ‘Boris keeps saying that a deal is ”oven ready” but Barnier will not want to come to leaders with any half-baked detail, especially on fish.

‘That can be dangerous and unpredictable as we learnt in Austria. Macron is on a short fuse.’

Further talks are scheduled in Brussels ahead of the summit. The two sides say they are inching towards a deal for after December 31, though sticking points remain on fishing, level playing-field issues and governance. 

Mr Barnier told EU ambassadors that he does not want the summit to discuss any possible compromise over areas like fishing to avoid an angry outburst by the temperamental French president

 Mr Barnier met UK counterpart Lord Frost in London this morning for a planned short meeting before heading back to Brussels as the clock ticks down towards Boris Johnson’s deadline for a breakthrough

It came as French officials yesterday refused to back down over access to UK fishing waters – despite the EU’s chief negotiator urging them to be more ‘realistic’ in Brexit talks.

European affairs minister Clement Beaune insisted that France would not sell out its fishermen amid calls for a compromise. 

At the meeting of EU diplomats on Wednesday night, Mr Barnier said it was not ‘feasible’ for European trawlers to keep the same access to UK waters as they have now.

But Mr Beaune said yesterday: ‘Our fishermen will not be a bargaining chip for Brexit, they will not have to pay the price for Britain’s choices.’

Speaking in the Netherlands – which also wants access to UK coastal waters – he said a deal ‘remains possible’, but ‘certainly not by sacrificing the interests of our fishermen’. 

Mr Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen agreed at the weekend that negotiations should ‘intensify’ in a final push for an agreement. 

European Council president Charles Michel warned yesterday that Britain must take ‘significant steps’ if Downing Street wanted to reach a free trade deal with Brussels. 

He said the UK Government faced a ‘moment of truth’ ahead of this month’s summit.

Two in three say end EU free movement 

 Nearly two-thirds of the public back the decision to end the principle of free movement around Europe.

A study found that, more than four years after immigration concerns contributed heavily to the Brexit referendum result, the majority of Britons say people from EU countries who want to live and work in the UK should have to apply first.

Most believe that would-be immigrants from countries such as France or Poland should be treated no differently than those who want to come from Australia or Pakistan.

But the majority also believe a new immigration system should give priority to skilled health or care workers. Four out of ten think doctors should be at the head of the queue, and six out of ten say there should be priority for care workers.

The British Social Attitudes survey report said: ‘Voters do think that the job someone does should make a difference.’ 

EU heads of state and government are set to decide then whether to press on with negotiations with Britain or ramp up their No Deal preparations. 

Mr Johnson has said that Britain could still walk away from talks if a deal looks unlikely.

But Mr Barnier told EU ambassadors on Wednesday night that he believes the UK will stay at the negotiating table. 

Mr Michel, who chairs EU summits, said Britain had failed to soothe Brussels’ concerns on the key sticking points that have hindered progress over the summer.

‘To get to an agreement we need significant steps to be made by our British friends in the coming days, not only on fisheries but also on a level playing field and governance,’ the former Belgian prime minister said. 

‘Progress has been made but it’s not enough. This is the moment of truth. It’s now for the UK to restore trust, and to put all its cards on the table.’

His comments came after talks with Irish premier Micheal Martin, who said: ‘The mood appears to have changed. There’s been more intensified engagement. Mood is one thing, but it does need substance to follow the mood.’

It came as it was confirmed that lorry drivers using the Channel crossings in Kent will need an access permit to enter the county following the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31.

The scheme, originally announced last month by Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, is intended to stop the county’s roads being clogged up once customs controls with the EU are reimposed from January 1.

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