Macron says French fisherman accept situation will change after Brexit

PARIS (Reuters) - French fishermen know they won’t get the same access to British fishing waters after Brexit, President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday, a sign of a softening stance on one of the main issues blocking an EU-Britain trade deal.

France's President Emmanuel Macron speaks at a post-EU summit news conference at the European Council building in Brussels, Belgium October 16, 2020. Kenzo Tribouillard/Pool via REUTERS

“Will the situation be the same as today’s? No, that’s for sure. Our fishermen know it, we know it too. We’ll have to help them. But can we accept a Brexit that sacrifices our fishermen? No,” Macron said.

Fishing rights are one of the last big issues left between Britain and the European Union to hammer out a trade deal that would take effect when a transition ends and Britain leaves the EU orbit at the end of the year. The issue is particularly important in France, home to coastal communities that have long fished in British waters.

While conceding that French and EU fishermen would not get the same level of access as now, Macron said a deal must give European fishermen long term visibility.

Britain wants fishing quotas to be renegotiated each year. The EU rejects this, arguing that it would make it impossible for the industry to make investment decisions.

Macron has come under pressure to relent on fishing, a small industry compared to others, such as Germany’s car manufacturers, that could be hurt by a no-deal Brexit. He insisted that fishing was not the main stumbling block in talks.

Asked why he would block a Brexit deal over fishing, Macron said the question showed that the reporter had been “brainwashed”.

“The state of our talks is not that we are stumbling over the issue of fishing, which is the tactical argument of the British, but we’re stumbling over everything. Everything.”

The main priority for EU leaders was to ensure fair competition rules, he said. “And it happens the remaining 27 leaders of the EU, who chose to remain in the EU, are not there simply to make the British prime minister happy.”

Macron said that Britain would lose more in a no-deal scenario than the EU, saying the right to fish in British waters was worth 750 million euros to EU fishermen, but access to European energy markets was worth up to 2 billion to Britain.

“So that’s a bad deal for the UK.”

He added that EU leaders were united and had tasked negotiator Michel Barnier to continue talks for two weeks.

“There are no divisions,” Macron said. “We are ready for a deal, but not at any price.”

Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Alison Williams