Fishing rights remain an “outstanding major bone of contention” in post-Brexit trade talks with the European Union but there is a deal to be done, the Foreign Secretary has said.
Dominic Raab said this could be the last week of “substantive” negotiations as he urged Brussels to recognise the “point of principle” on Britain’s control of its waters.
He told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “I do think we’re in a reasonable position – there’s a deal to be done.
“If you look really at what the outstanding issues are, of course the level playing field, but it feels like there is progress towards greater respect for what the UK position was.
“On fishing there’s a point of principle: as we leave the EU we’re going to be an independent… coastal state and we’ve got to be able to control our waters.”
Mr Raab said the UK recognised the impact on other countries, but said: “I think the answer is ‘can the EU accept that point of principle which comes with us leaving the political club?”.
He later told the BBC that with “pragmatism” he believes an agreement can be reached, saying: “The mutual interest in a deal is very strong.”
Labour meanwhile warned that a no-deal outcome would cause “untold economic harm” though the party has so far resisted confirming its support for an agreement.
Shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon told Sky: “We do want to see a deal, but until we see the construct of a deal, we can’t confirm our support for it.”
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier and his UK counterpart Lord (David) Frost are holding in-person talks in London this weekend.
Face-to-face negotiations were paused earlier this month after one of the EU team tested positive for coronavirus.
Mr Barnier told reporters as he arrived for the second day of discussions: “Work continues, even on a Sunday.”
Progress is understood to have been made across many areas, yet significant gaps remain on the EU’s access to UK fishing waters when the transition period ends on December 31.
Reports last week suggested that Mr Barnier recently said the EU could accept a 15-18% cut in its share of fishing rights in UK waters, but British officials were said to have immediately rejected the offer.
A Government source said: “These figures are risible, and the EU side know full well that we would never accept this.
“There seems to be a failure from the Commission to internalise the scale of change needed as we become an independent nation.”
The Government has repeatedly said it is prepared to leave the transition period without a deal if the EU fails to move, and talks have been deadlocked for months over fishing rights and other issues.
🇪🇺🇬🇧 After technical discussions this weekend, negotiations continue online today with @DavidGHFrost and our teams. Time is short. Fundamental divergences still remain, but we are continuing to work hard for a deal.
— Michel Barnier (@MichelBarnier) November 23, 2020
They include the governance of any deal and the “level playing field” conditions aimed at preventing unfair competition by cutting standards or increasing state subsidies.
But ahead of what Number 10 said could be the final week of talks, a source close to the negotiations said: “Over the coming days we will continue to negotiate with creativity and intensity.
“We hope that the EU will come with some fresh thinking because what we’ve seen so far doesn’t cut it. They must understand that we are not going to sell out our sovereignty.”