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UPDATE 2-Rifts over fishing rights still blocking EU-UK trade deal

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BRUSSELS, Dec 22 (Reuters) - The European Union’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, will update the bloc’s 27 national envoys on the latest on Brexit at 1500 GMT on Tuesday, with disagreements over fishing rights the key obstacle to a new trade deal, Brussels sources said.

EU officials said Barnier would then also speak to the European Parliament’s Brexit group, adding that cutting the value of the bloc’s catch in British waters by around 30% from 2021 would be too high.

The bloc was willing to go as far as 25%, diplomats and officials said, but added the number was just one piece of the puzzle, with the length of the transition period beyond Dec. 31, as well as how the EU could retaliate if Britain cut its industry out of British waters, equally important.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke on Brexit, as well as the latest on the coronavirus, in a call on Monday, according to EU sources. More calls would come as needed, the sources said.

Britain left the EU in January but is only due to quit its single market and customs union on Dec. 31, when Brexit completes.

The EU, a trading bloc of 450 million consumers, and Britain, the world’s sixth-biggest economy, are trying to put in place before that deadline a new partnership pact to govern ties on everything from trade to transport to energy.

Their current extensive trade exchanges and other types of close links would be badly damaged is there was no agreement, with fallout expected to aggravate the economic damage already wreaked on Britain and the EU by the coronavirus pandemic.

TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS

The final stages of the tortuous Brexit talks come as European and other countries have also suspended most travel to and from Britain since the weekend to try to curb a new faster spreading strain of the coronavirus.

Tesco and Sainsbury’s, Britain’s two biggest supermarket groups, warned on Monday that gaps would start to appear on shelves within days if freight deliveries were not quickly restored.

A top UK minister said on Tuesday food was plentiful and people should not worry about supermarkets running out in the last few days before their traditional Christmas feast.

Johnson’s spokesman on Monday ruled out asking the EU to prolong Britain’s transition out of the EU beyond the end of the year. (Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Alison Williams and Alex Richardson)

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