France’s ambassador summoned to Foreign Office over fishing row

·4-min read
French Ambassador the the UK Catherine Colonna (PA) (PA Archive)
French Ambassador the the UK Catherine Colonna (PA) (PA Archive)

France’s ambassador to the UK has been summoned to the Foreign Office as the row over post-Brexit fishing rights dramatically escalated.

Catherine Colonna will be questioned on Friday about “disappointing and disproportionate” threats of retaliation by Paris over what it claims is a lack of licences for French boats to fish in UK waters.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss took the rare step of ordering an allied nation’s envoy to be summoned in a sign of the UK’s concern about the row, which has already seen one UK trawler detained in a French port.

French ministers have warned they will block British boats from some French ports and tighten checks on vessels travelling between France and the UK if the issue is not resolved by Tuesday – as well as threatening the electricity supply to the Channel Islands.

Ms Truss said: “I have instructed Europe Minister Wendy Morton to summon the French Ambassador to the UK for talks… to explain the disappointing and disproportionate threats made against the UK and Channel Islands.”

UK ministers met on Thursday to consider the response, with the prospect of tit-for-tat action if France carries out its threats.

Brexit Minister Lord Frost, who chaired the meeting, said: “I remain concerned by French plans on fisheries and beyond”, adding that “we expect to have more to say” on Friday.

The Government views the proposed actions as “unjustified” and questioned whether they were compatible with the UK-EU trade deal “or wider international law”.

A UK Government spokesman added: “We regret the confrontational language that has been consistently used by the French government on this issue, which makes this situation no easier to resolve.”

The scallop vessel Cornelis Gert Jan was caught up in the diplomatic storm, ordered to divert to the port of Le Havre on Wednesday after the French authorities said it was fishing in French waters without a licence.

The French said that another British trawler had also been fined for obstruction after refusing to allow police to board to carry out checks.

The owner of the Cornelis, Macduff Shellfish, said the vessel had been fishing legally in French waters and called on the British Government to protect the rights of British fishermen.

Andrew Brown, director of sustainability and public affairs at Macduff, said: “It appears our vessel has been caught up in the ongoing dispute between the UK and France on the implementation of the Brexit fishing agreement.”

Environment Secretary George Eustice said the Government was investigating what had happened.

He told MPs on Thursday the vessel had been granted a licence by the EU but that there were reports that it subsequently had been removed from the list of vessels permitted to fish in French waters for reasons that were unclear.

The Cornelis Gert Jan in Le Havre (Michel Euler/AP) (AP)
The Cornelis Gert Jan in Le Havre (Michel Euler/AP) (AP)

Earlier, France’s Europe minister Clement Beaune told French TV news channel CNews: “We need to speak the language of force because, unfortunately, that seems to be the only thing this British Government understands.”

French maritime minister Annick Girardin also told French radio news programme RTL Matin that Britain’s “failure to comply” with the UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) is “unacceptable”.

“It’s not war, it’s a fight,” she said.

“We have fishing rights, we must defend them and we will defend them.”

The French embassy in the UK highlighted comments by prime minister Jean Castex saying that while Paris would like “de-escalation” it was down to the British Government to keep its word.

Mr Castex said: “We are permanently open to discussions, but I want to say to the British Government that we will see to it that our interests are respected and that their word is kept.”

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, and 18 of those vessels are under 12 metres.

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