Deadline looms to solve Channel fishing row as Britain threatens legal action

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France has given the UK until Tuesday to grant more fishing licences or face port and border controls (Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Wire)
France has given the UK until Tuesday to grant more fishing licences or face port and border controls (Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Wire)

The UK and France have only two days left to resolve their increasingly fractious differences over fishing rights before Paris’ imposed deadline to introduce port restrictions and border checks.

French officials have warned that it will bar UK fishing boats from some ports and tighten customs checks on lorries entering the country with British goods from Tuesday unless more licences for small boats to fish in British waters are granted.

The row has threatened to boil over as Brexit minister Lord Frost accused France of a “pattern” of behaviour against Britain with ministers in Paris having previously suggested they may restrict energy supplies to the UK and Jersey because of the disagreement.

The Prime Minister met with the European Union’s top official, Ursula von der Leyen in person while in Rome for the G20 summit to express his “concern” over France’s behaviour.

In an escalation of the dispute, Lord Frost has warned Brussels that the entire bloc will be in breach of the post-Brexit free trade deal terms with Britain if France carries out its threats.

The Conservative peer, in a series of tweets on Saturday, said the UK was “actively considering” triggering legal proceedings included in the trade agreement to solve the issue.

He said: “These threats, if implemented on November 2, would put the EU in breach of its obligations under our trade agreement.

“So we are actively considering launching dispute settlement proceedings as set out in Article 738 of the Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA).”

A letter from French prime minister Jean Castex to European Commission president Ms von der Leyen, in which he said the UK should be shown “it causes more damage to leave the EU than to stay in”, has sparked fury in London.

Cabinet minister Lord Frost said the comments were “very troubling and very problematic”, especially with “highly sensitive” negotiations currently underway with Brussels in an attempt to find a solution to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The Sunday Telegraph quoted a senior Government source who said Mr Castex’s letter “definitely raises a question” of whether the EU was “acting in good faith” around the talks on Northern Ireland.

In a meeting with Ms von der Leyen in the margins of the G20, Mr Johnson issued a warning over France’s “rhetoric”.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “The Prime Minister raised his concerns about the rhetoric from the French government in recent days over the issue of fishing licences.

“The Prime Minister stressed that the French threats are completely unjustified and do not appear to be compatible with the UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement or wider international law.”

The wrangle over fishing access escalated this week after French authorities detained a Scottish-registered scallop dredger, accusing it of fishing without a licence.

The captain of the Cornelis Gert Jan vessel, understood to be an Irish national, has been told to face a court hearing in August next year.

Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron do a fist bump during the G20 summit in Rome (Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA) (PA Wire)
Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron do a fist bump during the G20 summit in Rome (Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA) (PA Wire)

The Prime Minister and French president Emmanuel Macron – who were seen greeting each other with a fist bump during a photo opportunity in the Italian capital – are due to talk on the margins of the G20 summit this weekend.

It comes as the two leaders were warned by environmental experts to put their differences on fishing behind them or else put the key UN Cop26 climate conference at risk.

Professor Lord Stern, whose government report in 2006 warned of the catastrophic results of delaying action on climate change, said the UK and France needed to work together to address climate change rather than argue about an issue that was “comparatively trivial”.

In comments to the Observer, the crossbench peer said there was “a history of French and British leaders joining forces on climate change despite major political differences”, citing the tense relationship between former Elysee Palace incumbent Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair after the Iraq war.

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