Boris Johnson vows to take ‘appropriate action’ in France fishing row

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Hannah McKay/PA) (PA Wire)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Hannah McKay/PA) (PA Wire)

Boris Johnson has said the UK is ready to take “appropriate action” against France in retaliation for threats made during a post-Brexit wrangle over fishing rights.

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

The Prime Minister said he was “puzzled about what is going on” and claimed Paris’s behaviour could be in contravention of the UK’s Brexit deal with the European Union.

We will do whatever is necessary to ensure UK interests

Boris Johnson

The dispute over fishing rights 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. The EU said UK authorities withdrew the licence on March 1.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss took the rare step of ordering an allied nation’s envoy to be summoned as she called Catherine Colonna, French ambassador to the UK, to the Foreign Office on Friday afternoon to challenge her over France’s intentions.

French Ambassador to the UK Catherine Colonna (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Archive)
French Ambassador to the UK Catherine Colonna (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Archive)

Ms Colonna’s conversation with Europe minister Wendy Morton lasted less than 15 minutes and she did not speak to the waiting press pack after leaving the Whitehall department. She tripped as she waved to reporters.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said the minister “expressed concern” to the ambassador over “unjustified measures announced by France earlier this week” and, like the Prime Minister, warned of a possible breach of the Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA).

Ms Morton also “expressed disappointment over the confrontational language that has been consistently used by the French government, which makes this situation no easier to resolve”, according to a statement.

The Prime Minister, speaking to reporters on the flight to the G20 in Rome, urged British fishermen to “be confident about going about their lawful business” as he promised action against any infringement.

Fishing boats moored in Boulogne (Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Wire)
Fishing boats moored in Boulogne (Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Wire)

“We are puzzled about what is going on,” said Mr Johnson.

“We fear there may be a breach of the terms of the Trade and Co-operation Agreement implicit in what’s happening… and obviously we will stand by to take the appropriate action.

“We will do whatever is necessary to ensure UK interests.

“British fishermen should be confident in going about their lawful business and they should be encouraged to continue fishing in accordance with the agreement. Any infraction is something we would need to respond to.”

His comments came after the UK’s Brexit minister warned of “rigorous” checks on EU vessels if France does not back down.

Lord Frost met European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic for long-scheduled talks on the Northern Ireland Protocol in London on Monday, but the pair also discussed the fishing row.

The Conservative peer raised the threats by France to “disrupt UK fisheries and wider trade, to threaten energy supplies”, before introducing the prospect of “implementing rigorous enforcement processes and checks on EU fishing activity in UK territorial waters”.

Mr Sefcovic “encouraged the UK to intensify discussions with the European Commission and France in order to swiftly resolve the issue of pending fishing licences”, an EU statement said.

Earlier in the day, Environment Secretary George Eustice did not rule out blocking French vessels as he condemned a “completely inflammatory” claim from France’s Europe minister Clement Beaune that the only language Britain understands is “the language of force”.

Asked by the BBC how the UK would respond if France blocked British trawlers, the Cabinet minister responded: “Two can play at that game.”

Mr Eustice suggested French President Emmanuel Macron, who Downing Street confirmed the Prime Minister will talk to on the margins of the G20, could be whipping up a row as he faces a difficult election in April during which votes in coastal communities will be hard-fought.

At the centre of the dispute are the licences for small boats, which are issued only if the vessels can demonstrate a history of fishing in British waters.

Mr Eustice told MPs on Thursday 171 vessels have been licensed to fish in the UK six to 12 nautical mile zone, of which 103 are French, with 18 under 12 metres.

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