Britain has condemned as unjustified France's threat to block British fishing boats from offloading their catch at French ports in an escalating row over access to waters around the Channel Islands. Brexit minister David Frost chaired a ministerial meeting on Thursday to consider Britain's response to the measures, which are due to come into force next Tuesday.
“The proposed French actions are unjustified and do not appear to be compatible on the EU’s part with the Trade and Co-operation Agreement [TCA] or wider international law. We regret the confrontational language that has been consistently used by the French government on this issue, which makes this situation no easier to resolve. We have raised our concerns strongly with both the French and the EU Commission,” a government spokesperson said.
France's action is a response to the refusal of authorities in Jersey and Guernsey to grant fishing licences to French boats which have been fishing in their waters for years. Under the post-Brexit trade agreement, boats that could show evidence that they had long been fishing in the same waters should continue to have access, but Jersey and Guernsey say the rejected applications were not accompanied by sufficient evidence.
Foreign secretary Liz Truss has instructed her junior minister to summon the French ambassador but in a sign that London is seeking compromise, the government spokesperson said Britain was open to granting more licences.
“We repeat that the government has granted 98 per cent of licence applications from EU vessels to fish in the UK’s waters and, as has consistently been made clear, will consider any further evidence on the remainder,” the spokesperson said.
If the dispute is not resolved, French ports will be closed to British fishing vessels from next Tuesday and there will be intensified checks on freight at Calais and other entry points from Britain. A British trawler was seized by France during checks off Le Havre on Wednesday but environment minister George Eustice said the issue appeared to be over the boat's license and was not directly connected with the broader dispute over fishing rights.
Mr Eustice told the House of Commons that Britain would meet any French action from next Tuesday with an “appropriate” response.
“It was disappointing to see the comments from France yesterday. We believe they are disappointing, disproportionate and not what we would expect from a close ally and partner. The measures that are being threatened do not appear to be compatible with the trade and co-operation agreement or wider international law and, if they are carried through, will be met with an appropriate and calibrated response,” he said.
The SNP's Deirdre Brock said the government's claim that 98 per cent of EU fishing licence applications had been granted was misleading because the proportion of French applications that were successful was much smaller.
“Brexit-induced exporting changes have, as we have heard, resulted in an escalating trading dispute with France that, if not resolved, may result in British boats being banned from French ports and Scottish salmon being removed from French menus. France may go further and cut electricity supplies to the Channel Islands and delay French customs checks on goods arriving from the UK, thereby further disrupting our economy,” she said.