Johnson and Macron meet at G20 as fishing row threatens to escalate

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Johnson and Macron meet at G20 as fishing row threatens to escalate
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Britain threatened legal action as it branded as “very troubling” an apparent French move to punish the UK for Brexit in a bust-up over fishing licences.

Brexit minister Lord Frost also accused Paris on Saturday of a “pattern” of threats this year.

He issued a series of tweets in the latest cross-Channel war of words.

He hit out after French Prime Minister Jean Castex wrote to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to encourage Brussels to back Paris’ position against London.

France is threatening to block British boats from its ports and tighten checks on vessels if an issue over a lack of licences for small French vessels to fish in British waters is not resolved by Tuesday.

Heavily pregnant Carrie Johnson was seen in Rome (AFP via Getty Images)
Heavily pregnant Carrie Johnson was seen in Rome (AFP via Getty Images)

Mr Castex reportedly urged the EU to use the “levers at its disposal” to press home the need for “compliance” with the Brexit agreement on fishing and to show that “leaving the Union is more damaging than remaining in it”.

Lord Frost responded: “We are concerned and surprised by the comments seemingly made by @JeanCASTEX to @vonderLeyen that: ‘it is indispensable to show European public opinion that … it causes more damage to leave the EU than to stay in’.”

He added: “I hope this opinion is not held more widely across the EU.

“To see it expressed in this way is clearly very troubling and very problematic in the current context when we are trying to solve many highly sensitive issues, including on the Northern Ireland Protocol.”

He continued: “This is all the more so as the threats made by France this week to our fishing industry, to energy supplies, and to future cooperation, eg through the Horizon research programme, unfortunately form part of a pattern that has persisted for much of this year.”

The wife of French President Emmanuel Macron was at the Colosseum (AFP via Getty Images)
The wife of French President Emmanuel Macron was at the Colosseum (AFP via Getty Images)

He added that the UK was “actively considering” launching dispute settlement proceedings under Brexit Trade and Co-operation Agreement.

The dispute process would see a consultation period started, after which, if there is no solution found, an arbitration panel would be formed with compensation demanded or even the treaty suspended as punishment.

Boris Johnson and French president Emmanuel Macron were due to meet on Sunday at a G20 summit in Rome, and they exchanged a fist-bump on Saturday as the leaders gathered.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi poses with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (REUTERS)
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi poses with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (REUTERS)

In a further sign that the row could be defused, Downing Street said the Government stands ready to work with Paris on more licences for French fishermen who can show that in the past that they have operated in British waters.

However, Lord Frost took a hardline against French threats.

Jean-Marc Puissesseau, president and chairman of the ports of Calais and Boulogne-sur-Mer, described the Brexit punishment argument as “ridiculous” as he urged both sides to dial down talk of threats and retaliation.

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro arrives for the G20 leaders summit in Rome (REUTERS)
Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro arrives for the G20 leaders summit in Rome (REUTERS)

The row over fishing access escalated this week after French authorities accused a Scottish-registered scallop dredger of fishing without a licence.

The captain of the Cornelis Gert Jan vessel, understood to be an Irish national, was detained in Le Havre during the diplomatic storm and has been told to face a court hearing in August next year.

French authorities allege the Cornelis Gert Jan did not have a licence, a claim the boat’s owner, Macduff Shellfish, denies.

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