The UK and France disagree on licenses for French vessels seeking to fish in British territorial waters.
The UK has warned France that it could take retaliatory action if Paris goes ahead with threats of sanctions amid a bitter post-Brexit dispute over fishing rights.
British Environment Secretary George Eustice said on Friday that London reserved the right to respond to any action “in a proportionate manner”, with the two parties disagreeing over the number of licenses the UK has issued to ships. French eager to fish in their territorial waters.
Paris has accused the UK of unfairly banning trawlers from operating in its waters around the Channel Island of Jersey, a British Crown dependency located 22 kilometers (14 miles) off the coast of France. It says London’s actions violate the post-Brexit deal the UK signed in December 2020, 11 months after it formally left the European Union on January 31 last year.
Under the agreement, EU trawlers seeking to fish in British waters after the UK left the bloc had to apply for new licenses to do so. London was required to provide those licenses as long as the ships could prove they had operated in the waters before Brexit.
Negotiations continue between the UK and the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, over the dispute.
On Wednesday, French officials warned that Paris will ban UK fishing vessels from designated ports and tighten customs controls on British goods entering France from 2 November, unless an acceptable deal is reached sooner. of that date. France also suggested that it could restrict Jersey’s power supply due to the disagreement.
The dispute worsened on Thursday when France detained a British trawler for allegedly operating in its territorial waters without a license and fined another.
Britain’s foreign secretary summoned the French ambassador to London to explain Paris’ actions later on Friday.
‘It’s a fight’
Eustice said London’s approach for now was to try to resolve the dispute with the European Commission and with the French ambassador to the UK.
He told the BBC that only a “small number of ships” had not received licenses because they could not prove that they had “accessed Jersey waters” before Brexit.
“For now, we are not going to respond as France has, we are going to raise this with the commission and we are going to raise it through diplomatic channels to the French ambassador but we reserve the right to do more if France continues with these threats”, Eustice said.
He also denounced statements made on Thursday by French Europe Minister Clément Beaune that Paris needed to speak “the language of force” with the UK, stating that was all it seemed to understand. Eustice said the comments were “inflammatory … and the wrong way to do things.”
London has repeatedly denied acting unfairly on the issuance of licenses, instead claiming that France’s threatened actions are inconsistent with the UK-EU Brexit withdrawal agreement and broader international law.
It says it has granted 98 per cent of the fishing license applications from European vessels.
French Maritime Minister Annick Girardin on Thursday dismissed that claim, saying the true figure was 90 percent.
“And all the unlicensed are French, except one or two Belgians,” Girardin said.
“This is not a war, but it is a fight. French fishermen have rights, an agreement was signed and we must implement this agreement ”, he added.
Fishing makes a small contribution to the French and British economies, but it is a lifeline for some coastal communities.