As Brexit flounders over fish, UK and EU leaders dine on turbot

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen welcomes British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Brussels, Belgium December 9, 2020. Olivier Hoslet/Pool via REUTERS

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - After months of wrangling over access to British fishing waters, Britain’s prime minister and the European Union’s chief executive met for dinner in Brussels on Wednesday to pull Brexit trade talks back from the brink - and tucked into turbot.

A Brussels diplomat said the main course served to Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen at the European Commission’s Berlaymont building headquarters was steamed turbot, mashed potatoes with wasabi and vegetables.

Turbot is a flatfish common in waters off the British coast.

When Britain leaves the EU’s orbit on Jan. 1, European fishermen will no longer have automatic access to these areas. How much access they get is one of three big sticking points as trade talks go down to the wire, and could even scuttle a deal.

For their entree, the two leaders and their chief Brexit negotiators were served pumpkin soup and scallops, a reminder for some perhaps of a high-seas clash in 2018 between French and British fishermen over access to a scallop-rich seabed.

The EU has long complained that Johnson, by taking Britain out of the bloc but seeking to maintain benefits of membership, was trying to “have his cake and eat it” and “cherry-pick” only the best conditions for its divorce.

There were no cakes or cherries at the leaders’ dinner. Dessert was pavlova, exotic fruit and coconut sorbet.

Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Tom Brown