Explained: Why is there a fishing row between France and the UK?

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The boat detained by French authorities at Le Havre  (AP)
The boat detained by French authorities at Le Havre (AP)

The seizure of a British trawler by France on Wednesday has reignited a row over post-Brexit fishing rights.

Ministers were swift to condemn the actions of French authorities after the vessel was detained during checks overnight off the northern port of Le Havre.

French Seas Minister Annick Girardin later claimed the boat was not allowed to fish in French territorial waters. A second boat was given a verbal warning.

It is the latest incident in a long-running dispute over fishing rights that has seen Anglo-French relations hit a new low – intensified by a row over migrants crossing the Channel and the exclusion of Paris from the AUKUS defence pact.

The Standard looks at how the fishing row erupted.

What happened at Le Havre?

Two British fishing boats were fined after one failed to comply with checks by police and the other was found not to hold a proper licence, according to the French maritime ministry.

One trawler was fined for obstructing checks after it initially refused a request to be boarded by police, the statement said.

However, it was later not found to have been in breach of regulations.

France’s maritime ministry said the second boat was not on a list of UK vessels with licences granted by the European Commission and France. The boat was then ordered to divert to Le Havre.

What caused the row?

France claims that the UK has refused to grant its fishermen the full number of licences to operate in British waters that France says is warranted.

However, Britain says it will only issue licences to vessels that meet its criteria.

As part of the Brexit deal agreed by Boris Johnson, French boats under 12 metres in length are allowed to fish within the UK’s inshore waters.

In order to do so, trawlers must provide authorities with a record of their previous experience fishing in those areas and a relevant licence.

But French fury was sparked after the Government in London announced last month that it had approved just 12 of the 47 applications it had received from French small boats.

What have the French threatened to do?

In retaliation, France has threatened to ban all British vessels from landing catches from next week.

France’s Europe minister Clément Beaune warned there would be “no tolerance” of British boats, adding: “All the British boats that want to land their fish, their catches in our ports, that will be finished apart from a few exceptions.

“[The aim] is not to cut contact but to be extremely strict on the checks. We cannot be in a climate of trust with a neighbour, a partner, that does not respect the rules.”

Paris has also threatened to ban all British seafood imports and impose extra checks on goods arriving from and leaving the UK.

The row looks unlikely to end soon as both sides escalate a war of words.

In a stinging attack on British ministers, France’s European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune said that Paris must “speak the language of strength since that seems to be the only thing this British government understands”.

Ms Girardin also enflamed tensions by telling French media that the dispute was “not a war, but combat”.

How has Britain reacted?

A spokesperson for the British government instantly hit back at the French authorities, labelling the response “disappointing and disproportionate”.

Later on Wednesday, Downing Street condemned France’s threat to ban British vessels from next week.

The prime minister’s spokesman said: “We have relayed our concerns to the [European] Commission and the French government.

“We think the threats outlined yesterday evening were disappointing, were disproportionate and were simply not what we expect from a close ally and partner.”

They added that a response would be announced in due course, but that it would be “appropriate”.

“It will be calibrated,” they added. “We want to have further discussions with the French government and the EU. We stand ready to respond appropriately.”

What does the row signal?

The Anglo-French relationship - one of Europe’s most vital diplomatic partnerships - has hit arguably its lowest point in decades.

Barrie Deas, from the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, the body representing fishermen in England, warned that both nations must not descend into a “tit for tat” as it would harm business.

He told the BBC’s Today programme: “It may be normal enforcement action but against the background of the threatening noises coming from the French government… it’s very concerning.”

France has said it cannot cut off electricity supplies to Britain as a retaliatory measure but said it could raise tariffs.

This would further squeeze household budgets at a time when energy prices are already spiralling.

Read More

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