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European leaders gather for two-day summit that will assess EU-UK negotiations

Taoiseach Micheál Martin will join other EU leaders in Brussels this afternoon for a two-day summit in which they will assess the prospects for a breakthrough in the Brexit negotiations.

It will be the first time in nearly a year that EU leaders will have taken part in a detailed discussion about the future EU-UK relationship.

It comes amid deepening pessimism about the prospects for an early breakthrough on the most difficult stumbling blocks, including fisheries.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last month that if there was no deal by this summit then the UK could walk away.

Last night, Downing Street expressed disappointment over the lack of progress in recent weeks following a phone call between Mr Johnson and the presidents of the European Commission and European Council.

The outstanding issues remain fisheries, the so-called level playing field and governance, or how disputes between both sides will be resolved.

Ireland and other coastal states have been arguing against leaving fisheries as the last stand alone issue.

That seems now to have been reflected in the recent pronouncements of the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, who has said that EU fishing communities could not just be cast aside in order to get a trade deal.

Indeed, there are some suggestions that the EU could link fisheries with other areas of the future relationship which are also outstanding, such as financial services and energy.

Either way, fisheries is becoming an extremely difficult political issue for both sides. French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to make a strong intervention on the issue at tonight’s dinner.

He is facing an election in less than two years, and he will not want to face the wrath of French fishermen who may have lost access to valuable fishing stocks in UK waters.

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