France reminded Britain on Sunday that the UK exports most of its fish production to European Union countries, highlighting a potential bargaining chip in coming post-Brexit talks about fishing rights that promise to be thorny.
“This discussion will be pretty balanced because while it is true that we need access to British waters, the British need access to the European market,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told French media.
Britain, a major fish producer, has “extremely fish-rich waters in which many Europeans fish, starting with French people from Brittany, Normandy and the northern region”, he said.
“It so happens that the United Kingdom exports 75 percent of its fishing production to the European Union,” he said.
Britain leaves the Common Fisheries Policy, which gives all EU fleets equal access to EU fishing grounds, after a post-Brexit transition period ends on December 31.
Both sides will try to agree a trade deal by that date that would include fishing rights, a high-stakes area for France in particular.
Le Drian also warned that Britain could not access the EU”s common market in future unless it respected anti-dumping rules.
“If the United Kingdom wants to establish a kind of Singapore-on-Thames outside the European Union we won”t agree because if you want access to our internal market, you need to respect our rules,” he said.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that “taking back control” of fishing was one of the prizes of ending Britain”s 47-year EU membership.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, whose country also has a strong interest in securing a good deal on fishing, this week told Britain: “You may have to make concessions in areas like fishing in order to get concessions from us in areas like financial services.” Meanwhile Michel Barnier, the EU”s chief negotiator with Britain, said there was no way that a trade deal could be pursued separately from the fishing rights question.
“The fishing deal will be an integral and indissociable part of the trade deal,” Barnier told the French TV channel LCI.
“There”s no surprise here,” Barnier said. “The British should not pretend that they are discovering this condition only now.”