UK threatens trade dispute action in fishing row with France

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Britain said Saturday that it has not ruled out triggering a trade dispute rule against France in a deepening row over post-Brexit fishing rights.

Britain, looking to strike new trade deals after leaving the EU, has threatened to open trade dispute proceedings against France if Paris imposed sanctions on London.

"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," Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Sky News on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome on Saturday.

A government spokesperson previously said the UK would also consider "other practical responses, including implementing rigorous enforcement processes and checks on EU fishing activity in UK territorial waters".

France's ambassador was summoned to London's Foreign Office over the row on Friday and spent around 20 minutes with minister Wendy Morton, who "expressed concern over the unjustified measures announced by France earlier this week", according to the British government.

The two sides are at loggerheads over licensing rules for EU boats wanting to operate in waters around Britain and the Channel Islands.

In an interview with the Financial Times, French President Emmanuel Macron warned that the fishing dispute could hurt Britain's global reputation.

"When you spend years negotiating a treaty and then a few months later you do the opposite of what was decided on the aspects that suit you the least, it is not a big sign of your credibility," he was quoted as saying.

France has been incensed by the rejection of some its vessels by Britain and the self-governing islands of Jersey and Guernsey, which depend on London for defence and foreign affairs.

Paris has warned of retaliatory measures as soon as next week if more licences are not issued, including time-consuming checks on all products and a ban on UK vessels landing seafood at French ports.

French authorities also fined two British boats fishing for scallops during checks on Wednesday, with one detained at Le Havre.

British MP David Frost raised London's concerns with EU Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic on Friday during talks on implementating the Brexit deal in Northern Ireland.

Frost "set out to the vice president our concerns about the unjustified measures announced by France earlier this week to disrupt UK fisheries and wider trade, to threaten energy supplies", the British government said.

If the actions were implemented as planned on November 2, Britain said the EU would be in breach of the wide-ranging Brexit deal. "The government is accordingly considering the possibility, in those circumstances, of launching dispute settlement proceedings," it said.

French Maritime Minister Annick Girardin has dismissed British claims that 98 percent of access applications by EU vessels had been approved, saying the true figure was more like 90 percent.

"And all the ones without licences are French except for one or two Belgians," she said.

France's Europe Minister Clément Beaune said this week his country had shifted to using "the language of force" because "that is the only language this British government understands".

He said a second round of retaliatory measures could follow if no progress is made, including electricity price hikes for Jersey and other Channel islands that use power from France.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)

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