Monday, 6 Dec 2021

We abide by the rules! Boris finally loses patience with Macron’s France over fishing row

Fishing: French behaving in 'appalling manner' says Gardiner

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Britain and France have squabbled for decades over access to the rich fishing grounds around their Channel coasts. The latest row erupted in September after Paris accused London of failing to allocate enough post-Brexit licences to French boats to fish in the zone 6-12 nautical miles from UK shores.

Last month, the UK approved just 12 permits out of 47 applications for small French fishing boats.

Now, Mr Macron’s government has refused to rule out issuing new threats if the UK refuses to give more permits to its boats.

Downing Street has insisted the UK is sticking to the rules that require vessels to prove they fished in British waters between 2012 and 2016.

The Prime Minister’s spokesperson said: “At no point in recent days and weeks have we changed our approach on licensing, which is simply to enforce the rules as set out.”

They added: “It is entirely up to the French government if they want to reimpose the threats that we saw them both announce and then stand back from in recent days.

“We are confident in our position, we have been throughout, that we are simply abiding by the rules agreed by both sides under the Brexit deal and we will continue to do so.”

Brexit minister Lord Frost is expected to meet with Europe minister Clement Beaune in Paris to try to find “consensual solutions”.

On Monday, the French President backtracked on his threat just hours after saying he was ready to press ahead with retaliatory measures against Britain, saying he wanted to give negotiators time to find a solution.

France had earlier said that, starting from 11pm on Monday, it would restrict cross-Channel trade, threatening to turn bickering over fish into a wider trade dispute between two of Europe’s biggest economies.

In his dramatic backtrack, Mr Macron told reporters the French plan was on hold pending the outcome of renewed talks.

He told reporters: “Since this afternoon, discussions have resumed on the basis of a proposal I made to Prime Minister (Boris) Johnson.

“The talks need to continue.”

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He added: “My understanding is that the British were going to come back to us tomorrow with other proposals.

“All that will be worked on. We’ll see where we are tomorrow at the end of the day, to see if things have really changed.

“My wish is that we can find a way out on all these issues.”

A Government spokesperson said: “We welcome the French government’s announcement that they will not go ahead implementing their proposed measures as planned tomorrow.

“The UK has set out its position clearly on these measures in recent days.

“As we have said consistently, we are ready to continue intensive discussion on fisheries, including considering any new evidence to support the remaining licence applications.

“We welcome France’s acknowledgement that in-depth discussions are needed to resolve the range of difficulties in the UK/EU relationship.

“Lord Frost has accepted Clement Beaune’s invitation and looks forward to the discussions in Paris on Thursday.”

Britain gave France 48 hours to back down from the threat of sanctions or face legal action under the Brexit trade deal earlier on Monday.

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss appears to have been pivotal in forcing Mr Macron’s volte-face.

She told Sky News: “The French have made completely unreasonable threats, including to the Channel Islands and to our fishing industry.

“And they need to withdraw those threats or else we will use the mechanisms of our trade agreement with the EU to take action.”

Asked over what time frame France should back down, Ms Truss said: “This issue needs to be resolved in the next 48 hours.”

Additional reporting by Sam Lister

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