UK summons French ambassador as post-Brexit fishing row heats up

Britain's government said on Thursday it would summon France's ambassador to London to protest against France's actions in a post-Brexit fishing dispute.

A fisherman hauls his catch on the coast of Granville.
A fisherman hauls his catch on the coast of Granville. © AFP/Archives Charly Triballeau

"I have instructed Europe Minister Wendy Morton to summon the French Ambassador to the UK for talks tomorrow to explain the disappointing and disproportionate threats made against the UK and Channel Islands," Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said.

The summons came after France said it would adopt a zero-tolerance attitude towards Britain and block access to virtually all its boats until it awards licences to French fishermen. 

“I stand by the fact we pursued dialogue until now, we got half of the fishing licences today, but that’s not enough and not acceptable,” Clément Beaune, France’s Europe minister, told CNews TV on Thursday. 

“So now, we need to speak the language of strength since that seems to be the only thing this British government understands,” Beaune said.

France vehemently protested the decision last month by the UK and the Channel Island of Jersey to refuse dozens of French fishing boats licenses to operate in their territorial waters. France says the restrictions are contrary to the post-Brexit agreement that the British government signed when it left the EU. 

After weeks of negotiations, British authorities issued more fishing licenses but the number still only accounts for 50 percent of what France believes it “is entitled to”, French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said Wednesday.

France had threatened trade disruptions from November 2 if its boats are not granted more access to British waters.

The measures targeting British fish exports would include "systematic customs and sanitary checks on products brought to France and a ban on landing seafood", Attal told reporters.

France said it also does not rule out measures in the coming weeks that would target energy supplies to Britain. Attal specified that meant the Channel Islands, which are closer to French shores than British ones and rely heavily on electricity supplied by the French grid.

While targeted measures for the fishing sector would hurt British exports, broader customs checks have the potential to seriously slow down trade with the UK.

Europe Minister Beaune said extra checks could also be extended to "other merchandise" by "reinforcing our procedures and controls compared with current practices".

The French threats raised the prospect of more economic pain ahead of Christmas for Britain, which is battling labour shortages and surging energy prices.

British vessel fined

The UK said Thursday that France’s threat to block British boats from its ports appeared to breach international law and vowed to retaliate if Paris goes ahead.

“France’s threats are disappointing and disproportionate, and not what we would expect from a close ally and partner,” the UK statement said.

It said the measures “do not appear to be compatible” with the UK-EU Brexit withdrawal agreement “and wider international law, and, if carried through, will be met with an appropriate and calibrated response”. 

Two British fishing vessels were fined by the French maritime police during checks on Wednesday, French maritime minister Annick Girardin announced. Girardin said that one of the British boats was caught fishing in the Bay of Seine without the proper licences.

The boat and its crew were escorted to the port of Le Havre by the maritime police, where their catch could be confiscated and the boat held. The owner also risks penal sanctions.

Girardin said the other boat had been fined for initially resisting the check.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP and AP)

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