Emmanuel Macron warned today that he will not allow French fishermen to be “sacrificed” to Brexit as he stuck to his red negotiating lines and dealt a new blow to EU and UK hopes of a trade deal.
French President put the gauntlet to Boris Johnson when he came to a crunch summit of the European Council in Brussels, when EU leaders met to discuss the state of play in trade negotiations with Britain.
Mr Johnson had set the summit as his deadline to finalize the broad lines of a trade deal with the bloc, but the two sides remain stuck on a number of areas, particularly post-Brexit fishing rights.
Mr Macron wants French trawlers to have the same access to British waters as they do now, but Downing Street firmly believes British boats should be given priority.
The French President is facing increasing pressure from Germany to compromise on this issue, fearing that his unwillingness to touch fish could bring the entire trade deal to a standstill.
But Mr Macron was digging this afternoon when he said: “In no situation will fishermen be the ones who were sacrificed for Brexit. We did not choose Brexit. Maintaining our fishermen's access to British waters is important to us. & # 39;
Mr Johnson yesterday evening expressed "disappointment" with the lack of progress made in the trade talks leading up to the summit as he weighs whether to back off the negotiations.
Downing Street said the Prime Minister would "reflect" on the outcome of today's summit before setting out his "next steps".
Mr Johnson could choose to end the talks if he believes there is no deal in sight and bring Britain and EU to a split at the end of the transition period in December with no trade deal.
However, he was reportedly advised not to leave by Lord Frost and the UK's chief negotiator apparently believed that a deal may still be possible within the next two weeks.
Boris Johnson set today's European Council as a deadline for the implementation of a trade agreement with the EU after Brexit
However, the two sides disagree on a number of key issues, amid concerns that Emmanuel Macron's tough stance on fishing rights could disrupt the deal
Why the complex issue of fishing rights between the UK and the EU is shaking the Brexit talks in cold water
Each country has an exclusive economic zone that can extend up to 200 nautical miles from the coast.
This country has special fishing rights in this area.
In the EU, however, each country's exclusive economic zone is effectively amalgamated into a common EU zone.
All fishing activities in this zone are then regulated by the bloc's controversial Common Fisheries Policy, which dictates how many species of fish of each species can be caught.
The common EU zone is open to fishermen from all Member States.
However, after the transition to Brexit, the UK will regain sole control of its exclusive economic zone and will be able to decide which countries can fish there and how much they can catch.
Mr Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel's Brexit comments at today's summit are being closely watched by Number 10 as they will help inform the prime minister's decision on what will happen next.
Any move by Mr Macron regarding fisheries would instill new optimism that a deal could still be agreed, but if he continues to keep his red lines Mr Johnson might believe it is time to cut his losses.
Mr Macron wants to give French trawlers the same access to British waters as they do now.
However, Downing Street firmly believes that UK boats will be given priority after the transition period.
Germany has become increasingly concerned that the disagreement over fisheries could undo general talks with Berlin, which suggest that a no-deal split might in fact not give French boats access to UK waters.
A German government source told The Express: "Everyone knows that the European quota in British waters is zero if there is no deal – now it's 100."
The two sides are also still unable to reach an agreement on what is known as a "level playing field" for EU rules and governance of the trade agreement.
Mr Johnson said on September 7th that "an agreement must be reached with our European friends by the October 15th European Council if it is to come into effect by the end of the year".
October 15 has now been postponed to October 16 as the Prime Minister is waiting to weigh up the outcome of the European Council.
The EU member states will speak to negotiator Michel Barnier about the state of the Brexit talks this evening before dinner.
Mr Johnson had talks with the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the President of the European Council, Charles Michell, last night, but there was no breakthrough.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “Heads of State and Government discussed the current state of negotiations on our future relationship with the EU before the European Council in October.
The Prime Minister noted that a deal was desirable but expressed disappointment that no further progress had been made in the past two weeks.
"The Prime Minister said he was looking forward to the outcome of the European Council and would think about it before outlining the UK's next steps in the light of his 7th September statement."
This map shows the extent of the UK's Exclusive Economic Zone – the waters that Britain will regain control of after Brexit. Currently, the EEZ of each EU Member State is grouped into one large zone accessible to fishermen from all over Europe.
Many in the EU are skeptical that Mr Johnson will meet his negotiation deadline, especially when the road to a deal is visible.
The Times reported that Lord Frost had informed the Prime Minister that a deal could still be reached.
However, a shift to daily negotiations is likely to be necessary to achieve this in the coming weeks, giving both sides ample time to ratify and implement the agreement before the end of the transition period.
A European ambassador told The Times: “The deadline is really a UK deadline.
"The heads of state and government will want to send a strong signal that they are interested, that they want an agreement and that negotiations should be stepped up."