PM warns UK could take legal action against the French over fishing dispute

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

Boris Johnson has suggested that Britain could take legal action against France as the fishing row intensifies.

The two countries have been locked in a war of words after French authorities seized and detained a British vessel off the northern port of Le Havre last Wednesday.

French Seas Minister Annick Girardin later claimed the boat was not allowed to fish in French territorial waters.

Asked about the situation today, Boris Johnson said: “We are very keen to work with our friends and partners on all these issues. If another European country wants to break the TCA – the Trade and Co-operation agreement – then obviously we will have to take steps to protect UK interests.

“If there is a breach of the treaty or we think there is a breach of the treaty then we will do what is necessary to protect British interests.”

The Prime Minister said he was “worried” that France “may be about to become in breach” of a free trade deal agreed between the EU and Britain.

Before the G20 summit in Rome, the Prime Minister was asked if he had ruled out triggering the deal’s dispute resolution mechanism.

“No, of course not. I don’t rule that out,” he told Sky News.

I am looking at what is going on at the moment and I think that we need to sort it out

Boris Johnson

The dispute process, if triggered, would see a consultation period started.

If no solution is found, an arbitration panel would be formed with compensation demanded or the treaty suspended as punishment, according to the Commons Library.

It comes after French president Emmanuel Macron accused the UK of failing to adhere to its Brexit pledges on fishing.

French prime minister Jean Castex has urged European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to back Paris’ position against London.

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

 (AP)
(AP)

Mr Castex urged the EU to use all “levers at its disposal” and press home the need for “compliance” with the Brexit agreement on fishing.

But Jean-Marc Puissesseau, president and chairman of the ports of Calais and Boulogne-sur-Mer, described the argument as “ridiculous” as he urged both sides to dial down talk of threats and retaliation.

Mr Puissesseau encouraged the Prime Minister and Mr Macron to find “agreement” when the pair meet at the G20 summit this today.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It will be terrible for both sides of the Channel: for you, for us, for the ports, the fishermen in your country, for the fishermen in our country.

“And that’s only for 40 little boats which are not allowed to fish in your country, so I hope there will be an agreement on that over the weekend.”

 (PA Wire)
(PA Wire)

In Rome, Mr Johnson left the door open to finding a resolution with Mr Macron as he described the UK as being “very keen to work with our friends and partners”.

He repeated the assertion he made on the plane over to Italy, vowing to “take steps to protect UK interests” if there is a breach of the Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) with the EU.

Asked whether he thought France had breached the trade agreement, the Prime Minister told Sky News: “I am worried that there might be.

“I am looking at what is going on at the moment and I think that we need to sort it out.”

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

 (PA Wire)
(PA Wire)

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 stance.

The meeting came after ministers promised retaliation if France did not back down over its proposals if next week’s deadline for increased licences is not met.

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.

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