SHARE
COPY LINK

TRADE

France warns of ‘reprisals’ as post-Brexit fishing row deepens

The French government warned on Tuesday that it was weighing reprisals after Britain set new rules governing access for French fishing boats near the Channel Islands, the latest skirmish in a deepening post-Brexit dispute.

France warns of 'reprisals' as post-Brexit fishing row deepens
Fishing boats moored at the port of Le Guilvinec, western France. Photo: Fred TANNEAU / AFP

“We are ready to use these retaliation measures,” Maritime Minister Annick Girardin told lawmakers in parliament

She mentioned in particular consequences involving the underwater cables that supply electricity from France to Jersey, the largest Channel island.

“I am sorry it has come to this,” Girardin said, but “we will do so if we have to.”

Paris and London have increasingly clashed over fishing in recent weeks, as French fishermen say they are being prevented from operating in British waters because of difficulties in obtaining licences.

In the latest move, Britain on Friday authorised 41 ships equipped with Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) technology — which allows ships to be located — to fish in waters off Jersey, a self-governing British Crown Dependency.

But this list was accompanied by new demands “which were not arranged or discussed (with France), and which we were not notified about”, the French fisheries ministry said.

The measures effectively create new zoning rules for the waters near Jersey — “where the ships can go and cannot go”, as well as the number of days the fishermen can spend at sea and using what machinery, the ministry added.

“This is absolutely unacceptable,” Girardin said. “If we accept this for Jersey, it would imperil our access everywhere.”

France and Britain have increasingly clashed over fishing in recent weeks, with French fishermen saying they are being prevented from operating in British waters because of difficulties in obtaining licences.

The French fisheries ministry said Britain had introduced “new technical measures” relating to licences for fishing off the Channel Islands which had not been properly declared to the European Union under the terms of the Brexit deal.

“We consider that if the new demands for sea zoning or fishing equipment are integrated into the licences – when the European Commission has not been notified – they are null and void,” the ministry told AFP.

The ministry said it was adhering “strictly to the deal” agreed on fishing under the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union on January 1st.

“If the United Kingdom wants to introduce new measures, it must notify the European Commission which in turn notifies us – that allows for us to engage in a dialogue,” the ministry said.

“These new technical measures are not applicable to our fishermen as things stand.”

READ ALSO: France warns UK: ‘Our fishermen are as important as yours’

Fishing proved one of the most fraught issues in the frantic negotiations leading up to Britain’s departure from the EU, with London tightly guarding control over its waters as a symbol of its sovereignty.

Reprisal measures?

France said it had voiced its displeasure at the surprise measures with the European Commission.

Commission spokeswoman Vivian Loonela said the EU was engaged in “intense joint work” with the British government to resolve the issue.

“Any condition should be notified in a timely way to allow the other party sufficient time to comment or adapt,” she said of the new British requirements.

“In addition, any such conditions cannot be discriminatory towards our fishermen.”

Dimitri Rogoff, president of the regional fishing committee of Normandy in northern France, said that if French fishermen continued to be blocked from the waters off Jersey, there should be reprisal measures.

“Fishermen from Jersey should not be able to land at Granville,” he said, referring to the French port nearest the island.

French fishermen last month began a protest movement, blockading trucks bringing fish from Britain to France, over complaints that few of their vessels have obtained licences to operate in British waters.

Member comments

  1. The Fisheries Framework Agreement can be ‘terminated at any point with 9 months notice’. I think if France cut Jersey’s electric that would certainly be the end of the Agreement and EU access to UK waters at all.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

BREXIT

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”

SHOW COMMENTS