French PM says bilateral deals with UK at risk over fishing dispute

·3-min read

France on Tuesday urged stronger action from the European Union in a dispute with Britain over post-Brexit fishing licences, saying bilateral cooperation between London and Paris could also be at risk.

Prime Minister Jean Castex told French lawmakers in the National Assembly that the UK was not respecting its commitments on fishing under a Brexit deal signed with the EU.

"Britain does not respect its own signature. Month after month, the UK presents new conditions and delays giving definitive licences [...] this cannot be tolerated," Castex said.

The prime minister said he had asked the EU Commission for a tougher stance on the matter, saying that “if that does not work we will go the [Brexit deal] arbitration panel to get the British to keep their word and, more broadly, we will question all the conditions of the implementation of accords with the EU and also, if necessary, the bilateral cooperation we have with the UK.”

>> France slams UK’s ‘unacceptable’ decision to deny French boats fishing licenses

Cut power to Channel islands?

With tensions between London and Paris in the aftermath of Brexit escalating by the day, Paris also warned it could cut the power supply to the British crown dependencies of the Channel Islands.

Britain has refused to grant all the fishing licences sought by French boats as part of a post-Brexit access deal, leaving Paris furious and fishermen worried for their livelihoods.

A sequence of statements from Paris indicated that French patience on the issue had run out as bilateral disagreements on a host of issues seem to run out of control.

France “will not stand for this”, European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune told the Europe 1 broadcaster.

“For example, you could imagine the Channel Islands, where the United Kingdom depends on us for its energy supply...,” Beaune said.

Channel Islands Jersey and Guernsey are close to France, which supplies them with electricity.

‘They think they can live all by themselves’

Fishing rights for EU boats in UK waters were a key stumbling block to negotiations for a post-Brexit trade accord between London and Brussels after Britain’s exit from the bloc on January 1, 2021.

The dispute flared in May when a flotilla of around 50 French trawlers massed in front of the Saint Helier harbour on Jersey, a self-governing territory that along with fellow crown dependency Guernsey depends on Britain for its defence.

The protest sparked a tense standoff that even drew in French and British military vessels.

Since then, French fishermen have applied for the new access licences but complain of onerous paperwork and a requirement to prove they had fished in British and Jersey waters before Brexit, not always an easy task, especially for smaller boats.

“Our patience has clear limits,” Beaune said. “We’ve negotiated calmly and nicely for nine months now, that’s enough.”

He added: “They think they can live all by themselves and, what’s more, lash out at Europe. And because that’s not working they raise the stakes and become aggressive.”

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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