The British foreign secretary has summoned the French ambassador over “disappointing and disproportionate threats” relating to post-Brexit fishing rights, following the detention of a British trawler.
Talks are currently underway over France’s claim that Britain has been unfairly refusing licences for their fishing boats.
Earlier this week French ministers upped the ante in the long-running tussle, saying they would block British boats, and tighten checks if an agreement is not reached by Tuesday, Nov. 22.
They have also threatened to cut the electricity supply to the Channel Islands.
In a rare step between allies, foreign secretary Liz Truss summoned Paris’s ambassador to the UK, Catherine Colonna, for talks “to explain the disappointing and disproportionate threats made against the UK and Channel Islands.”
The two will talk late on Oct. 29.
On Oct. 27, scallop vessel Cornelis Gert Jan was ordered to divert to the port of Le Havre after the French authorities said it was fishing in French waters without a licence.
The detention of the British trawler, along with a cranking up of rhetoric from French ministers promoted Brexit minister Lord Frost to call a meeting with ministers yesterday to consider the government’s response.
Andrew Brown, director of Macduff Shellfish which owns the detained vessel, said it was being used as a “pawn in an ongoing dispute.”
He told Sky News: “On 27 October, Macduff’s scallop vessel Cornelis was boarded by the French authorities and ordered into the French port of Le Harve while legally fishing for scallop in French waters.
“Access to French waters for the UK scallop fleet is provided under Brexit Fisheries Agreement. Macduff’s fishing activity is entirely legal.”
France claims the UK is not granting as many licenses as its fishermen are entitled to under the UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA), the post-Brexit agreement which includes fishing rights.
Specifically, they claim the UK is withholding licences for small boats, which are issued only if the vessels can demonstrate a history of fishing in British waters.
French maritime minister Annick Girardin also told French radio news programme RTL Matin that Britain’s “failure to comply” with the UK–EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) is “unacceptable.”
“It’s not war, it’s a fight,” she said.
“We have fishing rights, we must defend them and we will defend them.”
A UK government spokesperson described the threats from France as “disproportionate” and “not what we would expect from a close ally and partner.”
“The measures being threatened do not appear to be compatible with the Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) and wider international law, and, if carried through, will be met with an appropriate and calibrated response,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson also noted that the UK has granted 98 percent of EU license applications to fish in British waters.
English fishing industry representatives have accused the French government of politicising the dispute over licenses and ramping up rhetoric ahead of the upcoming French presidential election.
Environment Secretary George Eustice did not rule out blocking French vessels in return as he struck out at a claim from France’s Europe minister Clement Beaune that the only language Britain understands is “the language of force.”
Eustice told BBC Breakfast: “That is completely inflammatory and is the wrong way to go about things.”
French authorities say they’ve stepped up surveillance of fishing vessels during negotiations on licensing, with French maritime gendarmes making multiple checks during the night on fishing vessels off the northern French port of Le Havre.
PA contributed to this report