Britain tells France: you have 48 hours before we sue you over Brexit fishing threats

Anglo-French relationship in meltdown on first day of COP26 UN climate summit hosted by UK

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
,Peter Allen
Monday 01 November 2021 08:23
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France-UK fishing row: Further escalation beckons despite Macron-Johnson meeting in Rome

The Foreign Secretary has given the French government a 48-hour deadline to withdraw threats against Britain over post-Brexit fishing licences.

The Anglo-French relationship was heading for Brexit meltdown on the first day of the UN COP26 climate summit – which the UK is hosting and supposed to be focusing on.

But Liz Truss took to the airwaves first thing on Monday to blast "completely unreasonable threats" to the fishing industry and threatened to sue France under the terms of the Brexit deal.

"They need to withdraw those threats, or else we will use the mechanisms of our trade agreement with the EU to take action," she said.

Ms Truss said the UK would use the dispute resolution mechanism in the post-Brexit trade deal to seek "compensatory measures" against Mr Macron's government. She did not elaborate on how she believed the warnings from France breached the agreement.

"That is what we will do if the French don't back down," she added. “Stop threatening UK fishing vessels, stop threatening the Channel ports and accept we are entirely within our rights to allocate the fishing licences in line with the trade agreement."

The foreign secretary told Sky News she would "absolutely" take legal action in the coming days if France does not back down, stating: "This issue needs to be resolved in the next 48 hours."

The row between Britain and France is over which French vessels can fish in the British waters off the Channel Islands after Brexit.

Under the Brexit deal, every French ship that fished in these waters before can continue to do so – but many who say they have been there have had their applications for licences rejected.

The Jersey authorities, supported by the UK, say they need evidence in the form of GPS navigation data for ships to prove that they fished in the waters before. France says this requirement was not included in the Brexit deal, is too difficult to meet, and breaches the Brexit deal.

French fishermen have held sporadic symbolic blockades of Channel Islands ports, while the French government has threatened retaliatory measures such as cutting off energy supplies or refusing to let UK vessels land fish in French ports.

Last week the French maritime ministry sent gendarmes to perform checks on UK boats fishing in French waters. One was fined for apparently resisting a search while another was seized and impounded in the port of Le Havre after French authorities said it did not have the right licences.

It emerged today that the owners of seized trawler will have to pay bail of more than £125,000 before she is allowed to return the UK. The Scottish skipper of the vessel has also been told that he faces a fine of more than £63,000 if convicted following a criminal trial next year.

Emmanuel Macron on Sunday night said he did not want to escalate the situation, but added: “The ball is in Britain’s court.” France has appealed to the EU to take action at a European level.

This dispute over fishing comes at a torrid time for cross-channel relations, with the UK and Brussels also locked in a dispute over Northern Ireland. The UK wants to rewrite the Brexit agreement it negotiated for the territory and implemented just 10 months ago, arguing that it is causing problems.

Lord Frost, the Brexit minister who negotiated the accord, upped the rhetoric in that row this morning, warning that the EU had acted “without regard to the huge political, economic and identity sensitivities” in Northern Ireland.

In a forward to a new paper for the right-wing Policy Exchange thinktank the minister said Brussels' "overly strict’" enforcement of arrangements has "destroyed cross-community consent".

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