Britain and the EU edged towards a compromise on fisheries on Monday in an attempt to unblock a Brexit trade deal, as Boris Johnson eyed December 30 for a last-gasp parliamentary vote on an agreement.
Raoul Ruparel, a former Europe adviser to ex-prime minister Theresa May who remains well connected in Whitehall, suggested the EU and the UK could find a solution to one outstanding issue holding back a deal: the bloc’s fishing rights in British waters after Brexit.
The prime minister’s allies, meanwhile, said any trade deal struck now would probably have to be voted on by MPs and peers between Christmas and new year, with an emergency parliamentary session being planned.
Britain’s chief negotiator David Frost and his EU counterpart Michel Barnier are haggling over cuts to fishing quotas for EU boats operating in UK waters after Brexit and over the length of any transition period for the industry.
Mr Ruparel suggested in an article for Politico that a compromise on fisheries could involve the EU’s rights in UK waters — currently worth about €650m per annum — being cut by 35 per cent over a five-year transition period.
The EU in recent days has offered a 25 per cent cut over a six-year transition — a proposal that France is deeply uncomfortable with and that has prompted outrage from the bloc’s fishing industry.
Several people close to the talks on the EU side said their understanding was that the current UK position on quotas and the transition was close to Mr Ruparel’s proposal.
British officials denied the UK had made a new offer along the lines suggested by Mr Ruparel, saying only that the two sides were “far apart” and that the negotiations were “brutally complicated”.
Mr Ruparel also proposed a mechanism for addressing EU concerns about what should happen after the fishing transition period if the UK insisted on further big quota cuts: the possibility of the bloc imposing tariffs to recoup any economic loss, with that cost to be determined by an arbitration panel.
In extremis, he suggested, the EU could pull out of any trade agreement, which would include a termination clause.
Mr Barnier last week said some system would be needed to link the EU’s future fishing rights in UK waters to Britain’s access to the bloc’s single market, saying it was a matter of fairness.
Mr Johnson’s spokesman said “significant differences” remained between the two sides, with fisheries and a so-called level playing field for fair business competition being the outstanding issues.
But the atmospherics appeared to improve on Monday after Mr Johnson held what he said was an “excellent conversation” with Emmanuel Macron, president of France.
The two leaders did not discuss the talks — Mr Johnson accepted that the European Commission was leading the negotiations for the EU — but Mr Macron’s offer to help restart freight movements between Dover and Calais after the French government halted them on Monday because of the latest Covid-19 variant in the UK was seen as positive in London.
The apparent evolution in both sides’ positions on fisheries mark a considerable shift.
Last month the EU was sticking to a position that it would not sacrifice more than 18 per cent of its rights in UK waters, while Britain wanted to seize 80 per cent of them.
If a trade deal is concluded in the coming days, legislation to enshrine the agreement in UK law is likely to pass through parliament with limited scrutiny.
Government insiders said December 30 was now the “most likely” date for any agreement to go through parliament: the day before the transition ends.
The European Parliament has ruled out voting to ratify any deal before the end of the year after a Sunday deadline for an agreement passed. Brussels is now exploring the legal option of bringing any agreement into “provisional application” ahead of a ratification vote. 
Mr Johnson is facing pressure from politicians including Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon to seek an extension to the transition. But he has rejected such a move, which EU officials have warned it would require negotiating a new international treaty that would have to be ratified in all member states.

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