UK vows action if ‘French don’t back down’ in fishing row

UK vows action if 'French don't back down' in fishing row
French President Emmanuel Macron talks with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the sidelines of the G20 of World Leaders Summit. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP
Britain on Monday warned France it will take action if Paris does not withdraw "unreasonable" threats to impose trade measures in an increasingly acrimonious row over post-Brexit fishing rights.

President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday that Britain must give ground in a post-Brexit fishing dispute or France will trigger trade reprisals this week, saying: “The ball is in Britain’s court.”

But Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told Sky News on Monday that “we will use the mechanisms of our trade agreement with the EU to take action” if Macron goes ahead with his plans.

“The French have made completely unreasonable threats, including to the Channel Islands and to our fishing industry, and they need to withdraw those threats,” she said.

“If somebody behaves unfairly in a trade deal you’re entitled to take action against them and seek some compensatory measures.

“And that is what we will do if the French don’t back down.”

ANALYSIS: Why the new fishing row between France and UK could get nasty

Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome yesterday to discuss the row over fishing rights that threatens to turn into a full-blown trade war.

Macron’s office said the leaders had agreed to work on “practical and operational measures” to resolve the dispute in the coming days, and were united on the need for a “de-escalation”.

But Downing Street denied any such agreement, and insisted it was up to Paris to back down on a threat to trigger trade reprisals against British fishing catches and other goods from Tuesday.

“If the British make no movement, the measures of November 2nd will have to be put in place,” Macron told reporters on Sunday, while adding that he “hoped there would be a positive response tomorrow”.

France is incensed that Britain and the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey have not issued some French boats with licences to fish in their waters since Brexit took full effect at the start of 2021.

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Paris has vowed that unless licences are approved, it will ban UK boats from unloading their catches at French ports from next Tuesday and impose checks on all products brought to France from Britain.

The threat of “proportionate and reversible measures” against Britain was reaffirmed on Twitter on Sunday by French Europe minister Clement Beaune.

Jersey’s Minister for External Relations Ian Gorst said on Monday that his officials had followed the terms of the Brexit deal, which stipulates that boats should only be granted licences if evidence is presented that they fished in the waters before 2016.

“We’ve really tumbled over ourselves to be as engaging and as reasonable as possible,” he told Sky News.

“And so to hear that tomorrow, the French will take countermeasures, it’s extremely frustrating. I mean, it’s bordering on they’re just being silly.”

Simmering feud

The simmering feud over fish has already seen a British trawler detained in a French port and Paris’s ambassador in London summoned to the Foreign Office for the type of dressing down usually reserved for hostile states not allies.

The dispute has taken time out of both leaders’ packed schedules when they are working hard on the climate change agenda heading into the UN’s COP26 meeting which got underway in Glasgow on Sunday.

Johnson’s own focus in the Macron meeting was on persuading the EU to amend a post-Brexit protocol governing trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, his spokesman added.

Johnson himself said he was “puzzled” by a strongly worded letter from French Prime Minister Jean Castex, urging EU chief Ursula von der Leyen to punish Britain over Brexit.

“I don’t believe that that is compatible with either the spirit or the letter of the Withdrawal Agreement or the Trade and Cooperation Agreement,” he said, referring to UK-EU accords.

On Saturday in Rome, Johnson complained to von der Leyen that the French threats were “completely unjustified”.

London is warning it could activate a Brexit dispute tool for the first time, exposing all of the EU to potential UK trade measures, if France executes its threatened actions on Tuesday.

EXPLAINED: Why are France and the UK fighting about fish?

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