Liz Truss summons French Ambassador as fishing row explodes

Le Showdown: Furious Liz Truss summons French Ambassador for dressing down as fishing row explodes – with Navy patrols put on standby as UK retaliates over ‘illegal hijacking’ of Scottish trawler that was ordered to dock at Le Harve

  • British scallop trawler Cornelis Gert Jan was seized Thursday by France and detained at the port of Le Havre
  • France accused the vessel of fishing illegally, but company which own it insisted it has been wrongfully seized
  • The incident has caused the row over post-Brexit fishing licenses to explode between Britain and France
  • On Thursday, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss summoned the French ambassador for a dressing down on Friday
  • French maritime minister Annick Girardin said the Cornelis was checked as part of regular patrols 
  • However, she added the seizure came against ‘the backdrop of the tightening of controls in the Channel, in the context of discussions on licences’. She added: ‘It’s not war, but it is a fight’
  • Vessel’s owner said boat is ‘a pawn’ in cross-Channel Brexit feud as French threaten to fine captain £63,000
  • Britain and France have been rowing for months over access to fishing grounds, with France accusing the UK of withholding dozens of licences that fishermen are ‘entitled’ to

Britain was last night preparing to retaliate after a UK trawler was detained by France amid fears the fishing row could spark a full-blown trade war.

The Government accused the French of breaking international law and France’s ambassador to London will be hauled in today to face questioning.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said ambassador Catherine Colonna would be expected to attend the Foreign Office ‘to explain the disappointing and disproportionate threats made against the UK and Channel Islands’.

Two Royal Navy patrol vessels were last night said to be on a state of ‘high readiness’ in case of further fallout, but there was no immediate sign they would be required. 

In a dramatic intensification of the row over post-Brexit fishing rights, the Cornelis Gert Jan was ordered to divert to Le Havre after French authorities said it did not have a licence.

The trawler’s boss claimed his vessel was being used as a ‘pawn’ in the dispute and blasted the ‘politically motivated’ French.

The Cornelis and its eight crewmen languished in port last night. With its blue hull, white bridge and red winches it has a somewhat ironic French tricolour appearance. 

Andrew Brown, director of the boat’s owners, MacDuff Shellfish, told the Daily Mail the French were ‘exploiting’ supposed confusion over post-Brexit paperwork.

But he also feared an ‘admin error’ on the UK side as the Cornelis appears to have ‘dropped off’ a list of licensed vessels British authorities sent to Europe.

Mr Brown said: ‘It appears our vessel is another pawn in the ongoing dispute between the UK and France on the implementation of the Brexit Fishing Agreement. 

‘They have the right to query things if they feel there is some kind of error in any of the paperwork, but they don’t usually behave in such a heavy-handed manner.’ 

Britain was last night preparing to retaliate after a UK trawler – the Cornelis Gert Jan (pictured right in in Le Havre, France, October 28, 2021) – was detained by France amid fears the fishing row could spark a full-blown trade war

Pictured: French gendarmes aboard the Cornelis-Gert Jan scallop boat which has been impounded by the French Gendarmerie Maritime for illegally fishing in the Bay of the Seine in french waters

Crew members aboard the Cornelis-Gert Jan scallop boat which has been impounded by the French Gendarmerie Maritime for illegally fishing in the Bay of the Seine in french waters

Vive Little Napoleon Macron’s Brexit sulk!

Commentary by Nabila Ramdani for the Daily Mail 

Diplomacy was abruptly scuttled when the French decided to arrest British seamen in the escalating war over fishing rights.

Depriving anybody of their freedom is a giant step in any dispute, but for a country whose motto is ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’ it can rightly be viewed as outrageous.

The exact circumstances around the seizure of the scallop trawler Cornelis Gert Jan in Le Havre on Wednesday are being analysed by lawyers, but there is no doubt that sabre-rattling was the primary motivation.

The French are furious that some of their boats are currently being denied fishing rights in UK waters following the Brexit settlement, and so have started ferocious retaliatory action.

While claiming they were dealing with the matter courteously through the European Commission – as would be appropriate for an EU founding-father nation – the French instead simply sent in their security services.

‘It’s not war, but it is a fight,’ is how Annick Girardin, the fiery maritime minister in Paris put it.

‘We are going to ask the European Commission to tell the United Kingdom that it is not respecting its agreement and therefore retaliatory measures can be put in place,’ she added.

Hard-Left Miss Girardin made it clear that arresting the Cornelis Gert Jan’s skipper, and threatening him with criminal charges, was just one of numerous options available.

They range from blocking all British fishing vessels from offloading their catches on French shores, and imposing stultifying red-tape barriers on other British products, to cutting off power to Jersey and Guernsey.

Threatening a nation’s power supply is the sort of behaviour we have come to expect of rogue states like Russia, not of an ally and neighbour.

Yet it was with undisguised glee that Miss Girardin threatened to do just this in May.

There was a time when the term gunboat diplomacy – use of naval power ultimatums to resolve disputes – earned Britain the title Perfidious Albion. It was a pejorative name implying treachery and double-dealing.

Now, however, it may be more appropriate to speak of Perfidious France as ministers such as Miss Girardin – who has confessed to having a ‘pirate’s soul’ – up the ante without warning.

Clement Beaune, France’s ferociously anti-Brexit Europe minister, is being similarly bellicose. He wants a ‘zero tolerance’ policy enforced towards the British as the French push for more fishing licences. 

The circumstances behind the dispute are technical. The UK and the Channel Islands recognise the historic rights of boats that have always fished in their waters.

New technology for verifying such claims was brought in when the UK left the Common Fisheries Policy, but not all French boats want to go to the trouble and expense of complying.

British negotiators are understandably insisting they install the technology. And yet it was Mr Beaune, apparently without irony, who declared: ‘We cannot be in a climate of trust with a neighbour who does not abide by the rules.’ 

Mr Beaune is extremely close to President Emmanuel Macron, a head of state used to speaking through his lieutenants.

Mr Macron, of course, despises Brexit and he is clearly keen to force a confrontation with Britain over it at every opportunity.

He undermined the Oxford Covid jab, for instance, and jeopardised its rollout in Europe. He has also been mischief-making over the highly sensitive issue of the Northern Ireland protocol.

Meanwhile, there is constant friction about the number of immigrants crossing to England on small boats from the coast of France.

Mr Macron is also still fuming after losing out to Britain and the US when Australia cancelled a £60billion contract to buy French submarines.

Above all, though, he is in the throes of an election campaign. 

Winning a second term is his priority and he knows that his main rivals are likely to be Marine Le Pen, of the far-Right National Rally, and the equally xenophobic TV pundit Eric Zemmour.

Ultra-nationalistic voters expect to see their politicians standing up for their interests, and Mr Macron wants to play to the gallery by outperforming both Le Pen and Zemmour.

Seaborne battles with the British are an obvious way of doing this for the new Napoleon.

But there will be a reckoning. If, for the sake of another five years of power, he sacrifices any pretence of being a diplomatically-minded statesman, then he will be in serious trouble.

Mr Macron needs to jettison his pugilism, start negotiating with Britain in a manner that is civilised and constructive, and finally respect the post-Brexit order.

Nabila Ramdani is a French- Algerian journalist, broadcaster and academic specialising in Anglo-French issues

The Cornelis set off on a five-day fishing trip from Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex, at 12.30am on Tuesday and entered French waters that evening. 

It fished uninterrupted until French vessel Athos intercepted it in the Baie de la Seine at around 6pm on Wednesday. The Cornelis was escorted into Le Havre port.

The Mail yesterday visited the crew, said to be ‘in good spirits’ but they refused to talk while police investigated. Scallop shells could be seen in the chains on the front deck but there was no other sign of its haul after French authorities punished it with a ‘confiscation of catch’ order. 

The cost to the firm is expected to be into the tens of thousands of pounds already, and mounts by the day as the crew misses out on vital fishing time.

French listeners celebrated ‘the first British ship seized by the French since Waterloo’ on local radio. 

French maritime minister Annick Girardin said the Cornelis was checked as part of regular patrols but against ‘the backdrop of the tightening of controls in the Channel, in the context of discussions on licences’. 

Girardin also told French radio news programme RTL Matin that Britain’s ‘failure to comply’ with the UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) is ‘unacceptable’. 

‘We have fishing rights, we must defend them and we will defend them.’ She added: ‘It’s not war, but it is a fight.’

France’s Europe minister Clement Beaune told French TV channel CNews: ‘We need to speak the language of force as I’m afraid it is the only thing this British government will understand. We will show no tolerance, no indulgence.’ 

Downing Street described the threats as ‘disappointing’ and ‘disproportionate’ and said it would respond in a ‘calibrated’ and ‘appropriate’ way. 

Last night a Government spokesman said: ‘The proposed French actions are unjustified and do not appear to be compatible on the EU’s part with the Trade and Cooperation Agreement or wider international law. 

‘We regret the confrontational language that has been consistently used by the French government on this issue, which makes this situation no easier to resolve.

‘We repeat that the Government has granted 98 per cent of licence applications from EU vessels to fish in the UK’s waters and, as has consistently been made clear, will consider any further evidence on the remainder.’

It follows anger after the UK and Jersey turned down applications from dozens of French boats to fish in their waters. Paris said it breached Britain’s post-Brexit EU trade deal and French ministers warned they will block British boats from French ports.

French PM Jean Castex said while Paris would like ‘de-escalation’, it was down to Britain to keep its word. Tory MPs warned the response risked a trade war and urged France to ‘back off’. 

Former environment secretary Theresa Villiers said: ‘They need to back off so that a sensible conversation can take place. Ratcheting up tension like this… creates the risk that the situation degenerates into a trade war.’ 

Ex-Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith accused President Emmanuel Macron of trying to shore up support ahead of elections next year. 

‘He’s trying to pull the tail of the lion, which is what French politicians always do when they get a bit stuck. There’s a lot of posturing,’ he told talkRADIO. 

Ex-Brexit minister David Jones said: ‘That is why he is willing to put his Napoleon complex on display.’

The skipper has been threatened with a £63,000 fine.

He is accused of fishing 2,160kg of scallops without holding a valid licence. Marine law expert Andrew Oliver told Sky News the skipper had ‘voluntarily’ met with local police. 

UK authorities must send a list of licensed vessels to Europe so they can fish in EU waters. He added: ‘More recently the vessel seems to have dropped off that list.’

Environment Secretary George Eustice told MPs the Cornelis did have a licence. 

Seizing the Cornelis is just the latest move by France in an ongoing row with the UK over who has rights to fishing grounds in the Channel now Britain has left the EU.

French ministers have warned they will block British boats from some French ports and tighten checks on vessels travelling between France and the UK if the issue is not resolved by Tuesday – as well as threatening the electricity supply to the Channel Islands.

Ms Truss said: ‘I have instructed Europe Minister Wendy Morton to summon the French Ambassador to the UK for talks… to explain the disappointing and disproportionate threats made against the UK and Channel Islands.’

UK ministers met on Thursday to consider the response, with the prospect of tit-for-tat action if France carries out its threats.

Brexit Minister Lord Frost, who chaired the meeting, said: ‘I remain concerned by French plans on fisheries and beyond’, adding that ‘we expect to have more to say’ on Friday.

The Government views the proposed actions as ‘unjustified’ and questioned whether they were compatible with the UK-EU trade deal ‘or wider international law’. 

In its full statement on Thursday, the UK Government spokesperson added: ‘Lord Frost chaired a ministerial meeting earlier today to consider the UK response to the measures set out by France yesterday.  

‘We have raised our concerns strongly with both the French and the EU Commission. As a next step, the Foreign Secretary has instructed minister Morton to summon the French Ambassador. 

France has detained British scallop trawler Cornelis Gert Jan in the port at Le Havre after accusing it of illegally fishing in French waters, but it owners insist it was fishing legally

A fisherman is pictured on board the British scallop trawler that has been detained in Le Havre. The company which owns the boat says the crew are in ‘good spirits’ while the captain has been taken for questioning

A French police vessel patrols around the Cornelis Gert Jan after it was seized and taken to the port in Le Havre on Wednesday

Brussels clash looms as Ulster talks ‘in ditch’ 

Ministers are preparing for a major clash with the EU within weeks over Northern Ireland that could spark a trade war.

A key Whitehall committee has been discussing the possible fallout if talks with Brussels break down. 

It was reported last night that some senior EU figures believe talks are going ‘into a ditch’.

As part of Brexit, the UK and EU agreed to the Northern Ireland protocol that is designed to avoid a border on the island of Ireland.

But this has led to disruption for goods crossing the Irish Sea, with new checks on those moving to the province. Concerns have been raised that Northern Ireland’s place within the UK is being undermined.

Brexit minister Lord Frost has been holding talks to resolve problems.

 If they fail, the UK could suspend parts of the protocol unilaterally. The EU may then impose new tariffs on UK goods in a trade war. 

British fishing grounds are among the richest in the North East Atlantic where most of the European Union’s catch is hauled in. France’s actions appear to be a warning shot to put pressure on Britain to compromise at talks with the EU.

British environment minister George Eustice challenged France’s statement that the boat had no licence. He told parliament France’s threatened steps appeared to be incompatible with a post-Brexit free-trade agreement and international law.

‘…if carried through, (they) will be met with an appropriate and calibrated response,’ he said. 

France says Britain has refused to grant its fishermen the full number of licences to operate in British waters that France says is warranted. Britain says it is issuing licences to vessels that meet its criteria.

‘So now we need to speak the language of strength since that seems to be the only thing this British government understands,’ European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune told CNews television channel.

Girardin made clear France could not cut off electricity supplies to Britain as a retaliatory measure but said it could raise tariffs. Britain was importing about 6% of its electricity supply from France on Thursday, data showed.

Extra customs checks on goods travelling between Britain and the rest of Europe could disrupt trade flows before Christmas. 

Before Brexit, French fishermen had free reign to fish in UK waters under EU law and only had to apply to their own government for a licence that allowed them to do it. 

But earlier this year a new regime laid out in the Brexit Agreement came into force, which means French fishermen now need to apply to the UK for a licence. 

Under the wording of the agreement, all vessels that fished in UK waters ‘for at least four years between 2012 and 2016’ should be granted the same level of access until at least 2026, when it will be up to the UK and France to negotiate new deals.  

Two British boats were stopped by French police while fishing in Baie de la Seine on Wednesday. The captain of one was fined and let go after refusing to let officers board, but the second was detained and taken to Le Havre for allegedly fishing without a licence

Tracking data shows the British vessel departed from Shoreham-by-Sea for Baie de la Seine and was trawling before being stopped and diverted to Le Havre

British fishermen ground down by fishing row

As a row over post-Brexit fishing rights between Britain and France escalated on Thursday, British fishermen complained they were being worn down as their livelihoods were forgotten during the standoff.

In Newhaven on Britain’s southern coast, the fishing town’s main quay was almost deserted as a week of bad weather forced the local fleet, comprised of small trawlers, to remain in harbour.

But amid threats from Paris to target British fish exports, the detention of a UK vessel and Britain summoning the French ambassador, trawler captains attending to their boats complained they would continue to bear the brunt of the spat.

Neil Whitney, the skipper of the ‘About Time’ trawler, told AFP the dispute over licensing rules for boats to operate in waters around Britain and the Channel Islands, was ‘political’ and dismissed the escalation as ‘more of the same’.

‘The scallopers try and push the envelope a little bit more, get in a bit earlier,’ the 54-year-old explained.

‘And the French retaliate by throwing things at us or impounding boats or just jumping up and down.’

The head of Britain’s National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) has laid blame for the worsening standoff on France, accusing Paris of politicising the problem.

‘France seems determined to escalate the issue. The only way we can make sense of it is that this technical issue has been politicised ahead of the French presidential elections,’ NFFO Chief Executive Barrie Deas said.

‘Talks that have been going on are perfectly civil and constructive, both with EU and France. So the issue doesn’t lie at that technical level.’ 

For the British fishermen, the dispute over fishing rights is another threat to their industry compounded by falling post-Brexit exports, constraints because of Covid and the growth of international fishing companies that are crowding out independent operators like those in Newhaven.

‘We’ve been ground down and down,’ fishing skipper Martin Yorwarth told AFP.

‘We ask our government and the (EU) commission to help artisanal fishermen… We desperately need some help.’

Yorwarth said disagreements would persist until the root problem of overfishing was addressed.

‘The reality is overfishing is massive. There’s no fish left… the French are hurting we are hurting’, he explained.

Both Yorwarth and Whitney, like most members of Britain’s fishing communities, voted for Brexit but feel the trade agreement that coincided with the UK’s departure from the bloc failed to deliver on promises made to their industry.

‘If we’d taken back control of our waters and taking back control of our fishing, then things could have been different,’ Whitney said.

‘We were really disappointed.’

Reporting by AFP news agency. 

 

The UK is asking French boats to provide tracking and fishing quota data for those years to qualify for a permit. The French have protested, saying smaller vessels do not collect this data and are being unfairly punished. The Brexit Agreement makes no mention of such data, they argue.

MailOnline understands that UK vessels wanting to fish in EU waters are placed on a list by British authorities which is then sent to Brussels for approval. To be included on the list, boats are required to provide similar proof to that imposed on the French trawlers.

The issue of fishing licences – one of the key sticking points in getting a Brexit deal signed – has proved an incendiary one even after pen was put to paper, with French ministers ramping up the rhetoric on Thursday after the boat was seized

Annick Girardin, seas minister, told French radio listeners: ‘This is not a war, but it is a fight.’

MacDuff Shellfish told The Herald that the crew are in ‘good spirits’ and are being held aboard the vessel in Le Havre until the legal issues are worked out.

The captain has gone ashore to answer questions from the authorities and has been provided with a lawyer, they added.  

The French seas ministry said potential punishments for the vessel include ‘confiscation of catch and immobilisation of the vessel pending payment’.

‘The captain of the vessel [also] risks criminal charges, under the control of the judicial authority,’ the ministry added.

French police did stop a second British boat, which has not been identified, and fined the captain for initially refusing police permission to board. The boat was eventually let go because it was properly licenced, the French seas ministry said.    

British environment minister George Eustice told Parliament the seizure of the boat is being ‘urgently’ looked into, but ruled out any ‘tit for tat’ retaliation. 

‘UK vessels with their licence to fish in EU waters should be allowed to do so uninterrupted,’ he said.

‘It is also the case that the UK will continue to implement and enforce things in good faith in our EEZ as well.

‘We are not going to get into a retaliatory, tit for tat on this kind of thing.

‘It is important I think that everybody remains calm.’

He also described French threats to block British fishermen from landing catches at their ports as ‘disappointing’, ‘disproportionate’ and ‘[not] compatible with the Trade and Cooperation Agreement or wider international law.’

‘If carried through [they] will be met with an appropriate and calibrated response,’ he added.

But Mr Beaune showed little room for compromise as he spoke to France’s CNews on Thursday, saying: ‘Not all French ports will be accessible to British boats anymore.

‘Only a few, three or four probably… It will be a very significant limitation in the access to our ports for British boats. And we will have systematic border, veterinary and security controls for British boats.

‘We will show no tolerance, no indulgence. We have actually started tonight with security checks, it allowed us to board and search two British boats which did not comply with the rules so no tolerance, no indulgence. 

‘And we will also carry out systematic controls for lorries carrying goods arriving or leaving to the UK in Calais or elsewhere, not to cut ties and accesses but to be extremely strict with our verifications. 

‘We cannot be in a climate of trust with a neighbour who does not abide by the rules.’

The Cornelis Gert Jan, a British trawler, is moored at the port in Le Havre after being seized by French Authority, in Le Havre, France, 28 October 2021

This picture taken in the harbour of Le Havre, northern France, on October 28, 2021, shows the trawler ‘Cornelis-Gert Jan’ detained by French authorities

What’s behind the Franco-British fishing row?

France and Britain are at loggerheads over fishing rights in the Channel, with a row over the politically sensitive industry causing a major diplomatic flare up. 

What has caused the dispute?

In a word, Brexit.

Britain’s departure from the European Union, which came into force on January 1, ripped up agreements in place to manage fish stocks in waters around the UK and the Channel Islands.

Until Brexit, EU members including Britain had treaties and a joint fisheries policy that allocated quotas of different stocks to each nation’s fishing fleet.

As part of these agreements, hundreds of EU vessels, mostly French ones, were allowed access to Britain’s fish-rich territorial waters between six and 12 miles from the coast.

So what changed?

Fishing was one of the most difficult issues to solve in the tense Brexit negotiations, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson promising to regain ‘full control’ of British waters.

In the end, the two sides agreed a compromise last December that will see EU boats gradually relinquish 25 percent of their current quotas over a five-and-a-half year transition period.

After this, there will be annual negotiations on the amount of fish EU vessels can take from British waters.

Under the agreement, EU fishermen wishing to access British seas had to apply for new licences.

The licences were for more distant waters considered Britain’s exclusive economic zone (12-200 nautical miles from the coast), and its closer territorial waters (6-12 nautical miles from the coast).

Fishermen needed to prove a track record of working there between 2012-2016.

And the Channel Islands?

They are a separate, but significant part of the picture.

Jersey is the largest of the Channel Islands, which are self-governing.

They are not part of the United Kingdom but recognise Queen Elizabeth as their head of state and depend on Britain for defence and foreign relations.

Brexit also meant the end of the Granville Bay fishing treaty between France and Jersey, which had set rules and quotas for fishing in the waters around the island.

Under the new rules, French fishermen were required to apply for new licences, which would be granted if they could prove they had worked previously in Jersey waters.

Is the row about the licencing process?

Yes.

Britain has accepted nearly all requests – around 1,700 – from EU boats to access its exclusive economic zone.

The tension is over licences for the territorial waters.

London has issued 100 licences to French boats for these waters close to its shore, while 75 requests are still pending, according to French figures from early October.

For Jersey, 111 permanent licences and 31 provisional licences have been issued, while 75 boats have been rejected, French figures show.

Rejected French fishermen say they are being unfairly restricted due to red tape and bureaucracy.

They say small boats lack the GPS equipment required to prove they previously worked there, while others complain that they are having difficulty obtaining licences for new vessels that replaced older models.

Have there been protests?

Yes. French fishermen sailed to the main port on Jersey in June to demonstrate, prompting Britain to send two naval patrol boats to the area.

On Wednesday, the French government announced that it would step up customs and sanitary controls on trade with Britain and ban British seafood from French ports.

The measures are set to come into effect next Tuesday.

France has also raised the possibility of reducing electricity exports to Jersey, or blocking negotiations between London and the EU on sensitive topics such as trade in financial services.

In private, some French officials point out that Britain is also dependent on Paris to prevent migrants and asylum seekers illegally crossing the Channel to England.

What will happen now?

French officials say that since they started pressuring Britain and Jersey publicly over the last few months more licences have been issued.

France is also trying to rally the rest of the European Union to its side.

Ten out of the other 26 members of the EU signed up to a statement condemning Britain’s ‘incomplete and inappropriate’ response on fishing.

Experts see little prospect for British-French ties to improve.

With elections due in France next April, President Emmanuel Macron is keen to keep the politically powerful and vocal fishing communities on side.

Reporting by AFP news agency. 

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the UK parliament, granted an urgent question in the House of Commons today to address the fishing dispute. 

Meanwhile Annick Girardin, the French seas minister who has been leading French efforts to secure more licences, told RTL radio: ‘It is not a war, but it is a fight.

‘We are going to ask the European Commission to tell the United Kingdom that it is not respecting its [Brexit] agreement and therefore that retaliatory measures can be put in place.

‘The French and the fishermen have rights. An agreement was signed. We must enforce this agreement. 

‘We have fishing rights, we must defend them and we will defend them.’ 

Barry Deas, from the the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, told the BBC: ‘It may be normal enforcement action but against the background of the threatening noises coming from the French Government yesterday, it’s very concerning. 

‘France seems determined to escalate this issue about licenses. I suppose we have to wonder why.

‘There’s a presidential election coming up in France and all the signs are that the rhetoric has been ramped up ahead of that on the fishing issue. 

‘I think what the UK government is doing is completely in line with the trade and cooperation agreement, not that that’s an agreement that we like but there it is, it’s in place. 

‘This is something that should be settled round the table and my understanding is that those talks have been going on but it’s this escalation I think that has got a political dimension to it.

‘UK vessels landing into French ports is not massive. It’s a bit strange because the French fish in UK waters far more than we fish in their waters and therefore if we descend into a tit for tat relationship I think the French fleet are much more exposed. 

‘I don’t think that’s a helpful way to go but it’s strange direction for the French to take which is why we conclude that this has all been politicised.’

Barrie Deas, head of Britain’s National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, said France appeared determined to escalate the licence row before a presidential election, with President Emmanuel Macron expected to seek a new term in April.

In a sign Britain might offer more licences, Bruno Margolle, head of the Boulogne fishermen’s collective, said 15 of the 37 licence requests from his region previously shown as rejected had passed to ‘under consideration’ since the boat was held.

Senior British, French and EU officials have signalled they do not want the dispute to escalate, but Macron and Johnson are under pressure from vocal fishing lobbies.

Britain’s Brexit minister, David Frost, chaired a ministerial meeting on Thursday to consider a response to France’s measures, a British government spokesman said.

The industry makes a small contribution to the French and British economies but is a lifeline for some coastal communities.

In Le Havre, scallop fishermen said they were fed up with British vessels enjoying what they called unfair access to shellfish in French waters.

‘There has to be an end to this fraud,’ Pascal Coquet, president of the National Scallop Fishermen’s Committee, said.  

On Wednesday, the French Government dramatically threatened to block British vessels from some ports next week if the dispute is not resolved.

Paris even went as far as suggesting it could restrict energy supplies to the Channel Islands if no deal is reached.

No 10 said the threats do not seem to be compatible with ‘international law’ and vowed an ‘appropriate and calibrated response’ if Paris does not back down.

Since the UK left the economic orbit of the European Union at the start of the year, relations between London and Paris have become increasingly frayed. 

France has been angered by a decision from the UK and Jersey last month to reject dozens of licences for French boats to fish in their waters, arguing it breaches the Brexit deal. 

Jersey, which is only 14 miles off the French coast, is a British Crown dependency outside of the UK. As such, it has its own powers with regards to who is allowed to fish in its territorial waters. 

It has granted licenses based on its interpretation of the UK-EU trade deal, and has accused France of acting disproportionately. 

After weeks of negotiations, British authorities have issued more fishing licenses but that still only accounts for 50 per cent of what France believes it ‘is entitled to.’ 

If an agreement over the licenses is not struck by Tuesday, France said it will block British boats from some ports and tighten checks on vessels travelling between France and the UK.

The French ministers for Europe and for maritime affairs said in a joint statement Wednesday that if no agreement is reached by November 2, France will bar British fishing boats from designated ports and tighten customs, security and other controls on any British boats and trucks traveling between France and Britain.

And then in the coming weeks, France said that it ‘doesn’t exclude’ measures targeting energy supplies to Britain, the statement said. 

Attal specified that meant the Channel Islands, which are closer to French shores than British ones and rely heavily on electricity supplied by the French grid.  

This map shows the extent of the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone where French vessels now require a licence to fish. Boats also require a licence to fish the waters around Jersey and Guernsey (bottom) but this is administered by the islands and not from Westminster

The French Government has dramatically warned it will block British vessels from some ports next week if the post-Brexit dispute over fishing licences is not resolved. Pictured: French President Emmanuel Macron delivers his speech on Wednesday in Paris

Downing Street vowed to retaliate against Paris if it goes ahead with the ‘disappointing and disproportionate’ threat to impose sanctions in an escalation of the row over fishing boats. Pictured: Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, October 27

A UK Government spokeswoman responded: ‘France’s threats are disappointing and disproportionate, and not what we would expect from a close ally and partner.

‘The measures beinge threatened do not appear to be compatible with the Trade and Cooperation Agreement and wider international law, and, if carried through, will be met with an appropriate and calibrated response.’ 

She said that Britain will express its concerns both to the EU and the French Government, and argued that the UK has granted 98 percent of licence applications from European vessels.

But the dispute continues over 31 vessels which the UK did not approve licences for, arguing that they did not have supporting evidence for their applications.

Britain says the majority of the vessels were denied access because they failed to prove they had fished in the six-to-12-mile nautical zone in the years before the UK’s referendum on leaving the EU. 

Attal, spokesman for the Macron administration, said on Wednesday that Britain’s conduct over fishing rights in British waters following Brexit had led to the French ‘losing patience’.

And he said that from next Tuesday there would be ‘systematic customs and sanitary inspections on imported products arriving in Channel ports’ including ‘a ban on disembarking seafood products as well as checks on lorries’.

France is one of Britain’s biggest export market for fish. In 2019, the trade accounted for £561.1 million, or 27.7 per cent of total exports.

Britain’s post-Brexit agreement with the EU states fishermen can continue to fish in British waters if they obtain a licence and prove that they previously were fishing there.

But the French are now complaining that around 50 per cent of licences have not been issues.

‘Our wish is quite simply that the agreement that was reached is respected,’ Mr Attal said at a press conference in Paris on Wednesday.

‘When we sign an agreement, and that was the case in the context of Brexit, the agreement must be respected. Our patience is reaching its limits.’

He added: ‘Matters are clear, and we have said that we will not let the British wipe their feet on the Brexit agreement.’

Under the Brexit agreement, 175 French fishing vessels have the right to fish between six and 12 nautical miles off the British coast, but the UK has only delivered 100 licences.

Paris also says that only 105 licences to fish off Jersey have been delivered when French trawlermen had the right to 216.

Mr Attal said the new retaliatory measures would start on November 2.

He also said that measures related to electricity supplies to the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey could be issued ‘in the weeks after’.

Earlier this year, France’s European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune warned that his country was ready to step up pressure on the UK using all means possible.

‘For example, you could imagine the Channel Islands, where the United Kingdom depends on us for its energy supply,’ said Mr Beane.

He did not expand further, but the warning echoed an earlier threat by French Fisheries Minister Annick Girardin who said in May that the fishing row could have an impact on ‘the power supply by undersea cable’ from France to Jersey.

Discussing the dispute last month, a spokesman for Britain’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs said tit had a ‘reasonable’ approach to the issuing of licences.

He said: ‘The government has this year issued a large number of licences to EU vessels seeking to fish in our exclusive economic zone and our territorial sea.

‘Our approach has been reasonable and fully in line with our commitments in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.’

France is set to implement a go-slow strategy for customs checks on shipments bound for Britain ahead of Christmas as the row over post-Brexit fishing rights continues. Above: Trucks queuing to enter the port of Calais last year

Source: Read Full Article