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French MEPs Nathalie Loiseau and Pierre Karleskind are pleading with European Parliament colleagues to vote down any trade deal unless EU fishermen are guaranteed “continuous access to British waters and fish”. In a leaked memo, seen by Express.co.uk, the French politicians set out plans to issue a public threat to Boris Johnson as crunch negotiations get underway in Brussels. They wrote: “As the Brexit negotiations are coming to an end, there is a special need for signals of unity coming from all EU institutions, in order to strengthen the hand of our negotiator Michel Barnier and to ensure that a partnership agreement, if reachable, does protect the interests of our fellow citizens.”
French boats face a potentially devastating cut to fishing opportunities in Britain’s fishing grounds after the end of the Brexit transition period in December.
Ms Loiseau is a former French Europe minister and a close confidant of President Macron and Mr Karleskind is chairman of the European Parliament’s fisheries committee.
The pair plan to publish an open letter, warning British negotiators must compromise in the bitter row over access to the country’s coastal waters or face a no-deal Brexit.
“These negotiations are coming to an end; the UK and EU realise that there is very little time left to find an agreement. We, as representatives of our fellow citizens, must protect their interest and this will be our sole guideline when we vote on the outcome of the negotiations,” the leaked letter says.
“We have been crystal clear so far and will continue to be: there won’t be a free trade agreement without a balanced, sustainable and long-term agreement on fisheries. There is nothing that would change our minds, let’s not reverse the logic of our negotiations.”
It adds: “A future partnership agreement makes sense only if it protects the interests of the signatories, there is no doubt that the UK will be losing some benefits by leaving the single market, but this was the choice it made. Threatening the European fisheries sector won’t make the doors of the single market open wider.
“Why should European fishermen suffer the consequences of a decision, Brexit, they were not part of?
“The EU negotiating stance is simple and transparent: to protect the interests of EU citizens and businesses, by no means to undermine them.
“The fisheries sector is no exception.”
France is said to be isolated in its push to maintain the bloc’s hardline fisheries demands in the UK-EU trade talks.
Michel Barnier, the bloc’s chief negotiator, has encouraged European capitals to give him extra room to manoeuvre in order to reach a compromise with British counterpart Lord Frost.
The Prime Minister’s Brexit envoy is in Brussels this week for crunch talks ahead of a summit of European leaders – seen as the deadline to establish whether an agreement is doable.
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During a phone call last weekend, Mr Johnson told Mr Macron he would have to accept cuts to fishing quotas as part of any Brexit deal.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “The Prime Minister then set out the latest state of play in the negotiations on the future relationship between the UK and the EU.
“He confirmed the UK’s commitment to exploring every avenue to reach an agreement. He underlined that a deal was better for both sides, but also that the UK was prepared to end the transition period on Australia-style terms if an agreement could not be found.
“The Prime Minister emphasised that progress must be made in the coming days to bridge the significant gaps, notably in the areas of fisheries and the level playing field, through the process of intensive talks between Chief Negotiators agreed with the President of the European Commission.”
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Ms Loiseau and Mr Karleskind are hoping to collect signatures of MEPs willing to support the French President’s hardline approach.
“We are asking for continuous access to British waters and fish as much as the UK is asking for access to the European market,” they told colleagues.
“In the final stretch, we, members of the European Parliament, say to our negotiator as to the Heads of State and Government: we stand ready to give our consent to an agreement. We stand ready, but not at any cost!”
The EU Parliament must first rubber-stamp any UK-EU Brexit deal before it can enter into force.
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