European industry groups fear impact of Brexit 'brutal split'
Leaders of three major European business organizations issued a joint plea to European Union leaders to do all they can to agree a trade deal with the United Kingdom to come into force following the end of the Brexit transition period, or face up to what they called a "brutal split".
EU leaders met in Brussels on Thursday for their first major group discussions of the year on the current state of negotiations. With time running out for an agreement to be reached, and Britain having again moved a self-imposed deadline for one to be found, tensions are rising.
The presidents of Germany's BDI, Italy's Confindustria, and France's Medef said EU leaders should "explore all possible options to reach a solution which ensures smooth trade conditions, while maintaining the conditions for fair competition between the Union and its British partner", while warning that failure to do so would bring about "cascading consequences" causing major trade problems.
One of the main areas of disagreement continues to be the access for fishing boats from EU nations to British territorial waters.
In August, ITV news reported the fishing industry made up just 0.1 percent of the UK economy, and in 2018 it employed around 12,000, just 0.04 percent of the UK workforce.
But Britain's negotiators have pushed it to the top of the agenda, with Europe showing little sign of wanting to modify its stance.
However, the Financial Times quoted a senior German government official as saying "nothing is insoluble" and that there is room for maneuver on the side of Brussels.
"Everyone realizes that if there's no deal, the Europeans' fishing quota in British waters will be zero," the official said.
"All the coastal countries in the EU realize that in future (their quota) will be less. (Prime Minister) Boris Johnson has said there will have to be a 'significant difference'. And that allows us enough room for maneuver in our negotiations."
The official added that the issue was "very sensitive politically, but technically it is solvable".
Critics of the Brexit process have been quick to remind its supporters of their previous confident claims.
In April 2016, before the referendum took place, Michael Gove, who is now a senior Cabinet official, said:"The day after we vote to leave, we hold all the cards and we can choose the path we want."
In January this year, shortly before Britain's formal departure, Johnson said he would celebrate it "in a way that I hope is respectful of the scale of the event, that does justice to the astonishing feat that Britain has accomplished".
On Wednesday Johnson had discussions with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, after which she tweeted:"Took stock of negotiations UK in a call with Boris Johnson, together with (European Council President) Charles Michel. The EU is working on a deal, but not at any price. Conditions must be right, on fisheries, level-playing field and governance. Still a lot of work ahead of us."