November 15, 2018 / 2:13 PM / a month ago

French-led EU states call for changes to Britain's draft exit deal

BRUSSELS/PARIS, Nov 15 (Reuters) - France on Thursday led calls among European Union states for changes to the draft deal on Britain’s exit from the bloc, adding to uncertainty over the fate of the agreement as British Prime Minister Theresa faced an uproar at home.

May’s cabinet on Wednesday endorsed the draft to end Britain’s four decades in the bloc, a nearly 600-page, dense legal text that is far from certain to pass in the UK parliament and prompted several British ministers to resign on Thursday.

The other 27 EU states staying on together after Brexit plan to rubber-stamp the draft at a Nov. 25 leaders’ summit. But France spearheaded a group of states in raising objections to what has so far been agreed on fishing between the EU and UK after Brexit, diplomatic sources and EU officials said.

“On the draft agreement, several member states will ask for improvements on fishing,” a diplomatic source close to the negotiations said, listing concern about the issue in France, Denmark, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands.

Finland and Ireland were also worried about future fishing arrangements, other diplomatic sources told Reuters.

Britain’s rich fishing waters are currently available to other EU states under mutual access arrangements with set quotas. While the EU has wanted to safeguard that scheme after Brexit, Britain wants to take unilateral control of its waters.

In the end, the draft Brexit deal leaves the case without a firm resolution at this stage. It says the two sides would try to agree on fisheries by July 2020, during the transition period after Brexit, to form part of an eventual new EU-UK trade deal.

The draft leaves fisheries outside of the single EU-UK customs zone that could be triggered if the sides find no other way to ensure an open Irish border - the so-called “backstop” mechanism that has long held up the overall agreement.

“Not all member states were very happy with that,” an EU official said. (Additional reporting and writing by Gabriela Baczynska Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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