Britain 'dragging its feet' in Brexit talks, says France's foreign minister

WION Web Team
Paris, France Published: Nov 25, 2020, 09.33 PM(IST)

A pro-Brexit supporter holds a placard at Parliament Square on Brexit day, in London, Britain. Photograph:( Reuters )

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Jean-Yves Le Drian said the two sides remained far apart on fishing rights, a totemic issue for both Britain and France

France's foreign minister accused Britain on Wednesday of "dragging its feet" in last-ditch Brexit negotiations and said Paris would not yield on the issue of fisheries, one of three key issues blocking a deal.

Both the UK and France are still at loggerheads and need a trade deal to govern ties or risk economic chaos. Fishing has been one of the most politically explosive issues blocking an agreement.

"The outcome is uncertain. British overtures remain insufficient on the most sensitive matters," Jean-Yves Le Drian told a parliamentary hearing.

"At this time, Britain is dragging its feet on secondary matters and is playing with the calendar. I say this to our British friends, we won't let the calendar take priority over the content of the accord."

Jean-Yves Le Drian said the two sides remained far apart on fishing rights, a totemic issue for both Britain and France.

French fishermen who depend on bountiful UK waters fear for their livelihoods in the post-Brexit endgame, but so might their British counterparts who land their catch at the Brittany port of Roscoff for the European market.

The other main sticking points are ensuring fair play for companies, including on state aid, and finding ways to settle future disputes.

"When we play football even away from home you have to play to the same rules and respect the rules. Otherwise it's another sport. You can't play cricket on a football pitch," Le Drian said.

Britain and the EU are in a last-ditch effort to agree terms to keep trade flowing without tariffs or quotas from the start of 2021, after London's current standstill transition out of the 27-nation bloc ends.

London has been resisting signing up to the EU's vision of a post-Brexit "level playing field", with trade penalties if either side diverges from agreed standards.

Johnson has also introduced a draft law to govern the UK internal market that his own government admits would breach promises made in Britain's EU withdrawal treaty.

This has undermined Brussels' trust in Britain, and talks have now blown past several unofficial deadlines, leaving only a narrow window for agreement before the end of the year.

European Commission vice-president Maros Sefkovic said he hoped to hold a meeting with British minister Michael Gove and their joint committee on implementing the withdrawal deal in the coming days.

Brussels is keen to see movement from London in implementing border controls between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which will remain in the EU single market despite being a part of the UK. Britain, with rich fishing waters, favours annual catch negotiations but the EU is seeking a longer-term perspective for its fishing industry.

Echoing comments made by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to the European Parliament on Wednesday, Le Drian said the EU was ready for all scenarios including a no-deal Brexit.

"It's up to the British to come out of tactical postures and make the necessary gestures. Sometimes it's better to have no deal than a bad deal," he said.

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