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October 29, 2021

The UK could respond in turn if France goes ahead with threats amid a dispute over post-Brexit fishing rights, the environment secretary has said, warning that "two can play at that game". France said it could stop UK boats landing in its ports if the row over licences was not resolved by Tuesday.

George Eustice said the language used by French officials was "inflammatory". He said he was raising the issue with the European Commission, while France's ambassador has been summoned by the UK.

Boris Johnson will have a "brush by" meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in the G20 summit in Rome this weekend, the prime minister's spokesman said. He added that France remained a "close and strong ally" to the UK.

A British trawler was seized by France and another fined during checks off Le Havre on Thursday. French authorities say the detained Cornelis Gert Jan vessel did not have a licence - a claim denied by the boat's owner Macduff Shellfish of Scotland. But the European Union said the UK authorities withdrew the licence on 1 March.The captain of the scallop dredger will face a court hearing in August next year, French authorities said on Friday. Media sources said No 10 sources were "amazed and concerned" at the escalating fishing row, describing the developments in recent days as "extraordinary".

Retaliation options being considered
Ministers met on Thursday to discuss the situation and are understood to be considering a "range of options" to retaliate. France was angered by a decision from the UK and Jersey last month to deny fishing licences to dozens of French boats to access British waters and argued that this breached the Brexit deal.
The country has warned it would block British boats from landing their catches in some French ports next week and tighten checks on UK boats and trucks if the dispute over fishing licences was not resolved by 2 November.

France has also warned it could cut electricity supplies to Jersey, a British Crown dependency, as it previously threatened in May.

Mr Eustice told the BBC only a "small number of vessels" did not qualify for licences "because they have never accessed Jersey waters before". He said the UK had an "ever open door" and the government would wait to see what decision is made by Tuesday, after which the UK "reserve the right to respond in a proportionate way".

Asked about the claim by France's Europe minister, Clément Beaune, that the only language Britain understands is "the language of force", Mr Eustice said: "That is completely inflammatory and is the wrong way to go about things."


He added: "For now, we're not going to respond in the way that France has, we're going to raise this with the commission and we're going to raise it through diplomatic channels with the French ambassador but we'll reserve our right to do more things if France continues to press ahead with these threats."

The environment secretary suggested France was politicising the process of checking vessels. "There obviously is an election coming up in France, it may be that is a factor in this," he said. Mr. Eustice said the detained trawler had been granted a licence at the beginning of the year and the government was "trying to get to the bottom" of why it had subsequently been taken off the list given to the European Union. He said the boat may have made some changes to its engine which meant the licence had to be renewed.

Andrew Brown, from the boat's owners Macduff Shellfish, said: "We don't know where the error of interpretation of the licence lies, that will take some time to fix."But I would believe that under normal circumstances a misunderstanding like this could be sorted out with a phone call."

France ambassador to be summoned
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss asked Europe minister Wendy Morton to call France's ambassador to the UK, Catherine Colonna, for talks later on Friday. By summoning the French ambassador, the government is expressing its significant concern over the fishing dispute in a very public way.


This is not something allies do very often and this form of diplomatic dressing down is normally reserved for governments with whom the UK has a less amicable relationship, such as China or Iran. But equally, this is also a calibrated response by the Foreign Office - the ambassador is meeting only a junior minister.

It would have been a greater escalation if Foreign Secretary Liz Truss had chosen to see the ambassador, Catherine Colonna, herself. And as diplomatic contretemps go, this is quite measured in comparison to a recent dispute over nuclear submarines when France actually recalled its ambassadors from Australia and the United States.

It's up to the UK to deescalate the situation
Stéphanie Yon-Courtin, a French MEP and member of the EU Fisheries Committee, accused the UK government and Channel Islands authorities of not respecting the trade agreement they signed with the EU, saying it was "up to the UK government to de-escalate the situation".

"We don't want escalation," she said. "We do want to ease things. I feel really sorry for our fishermen, for the British fishermen as well... because we've got a very long history of friendship and I really would like to keep this as it has been."

Under the Brexit deal, it was agreed that licences would be given to vessels that could show they had fished in each other's waters for years, although there have been disputes about how much evidence is needed.

The UK maintains the rejected applications that sparked the row did not have enough supporting evidence to show the boats had a history of fishing in Britain's or Jersey's waters.

A meeting with officials from France, Jersey, the UK, and European Commission on Wednesday led to 162 French boats being given licences to fish in Jersey's waters from Friday.

The government of Jersey said it was "extremely disappointed" by the latest threats of sanctions by France. French trawlers previously protested outside the port of St Helier on the island.