Britain has threatened to target all European Union fishing boats in its territorial waters for "rigorous checks" if France blocks British boats from landing catches at its ports. France has also threatened to impose extra checks on British lorries as part of a package of retaliatory measures in a standoff over fishing licences with crown dependencies Jersey and Guernsey.
Britain summoned the French ambassador on Friday and Brexit minister David Frost raised the issue at a meeting with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic in London.
“Lord Frost also set out to the vice president our concerns about the unjustified measures announced by France earlier this week to disrupt UK fisheries and wider trade, to threaten energy supplies, and to block further co-operation between the UK and the EU, for example on the Horizon research programme,” a government spokesperson said.
“Lord Frost made clear that, if these actions were implemented as planned on November 2nd, they would put the European Union in breach of the Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA). The government is accordingly considering the possibility, in those circumstances, of launching dispute settlement proceedings under the TCA, and of other practical responses, including implementing rigorous enforcement processes and checks on EU fishing activity in UK territorial waters, within the terms of the TCA.”
Under the terms of the agreement, European fishing boats that can demonstrate that they have been fishing in British coastal waters before Brexit should be given licences to continue fishing there. But Jersey and Guernsey have refused 55 applications from French boats on the grounds that they have not provided sufficient evidence.
The issue has come to a head now because temporary licences issued earlier this year expire this weekend and only boats that have been licensed or are still under consideration will be able to continue to fish near Jersey and Guernsey.
Boris Johnson, who is due to meet Emmanuel Macron in Rome on Sunday morning during the G20 summit, said he did not believe the French president wanted to threaten Britain.
“There may be people on both sides of the Channel who may think they have an interest in promoting disharmony between the UK and France, promoting the impression of disharmony between the UK and France. I don’t think Emmanuel shares that perspective personally at all,” he said.
“On the particular issues that we have, we are puzzled about what is going on. We fear that there may be a breach of the terms of the Trade and Co-operation Agreement implicit on what is happening and some of the things that are being said. We stand by to take the appropriate action.”
Lord Frost’s meeting with Mr Sefcovic ended without a breakthrough on the Northern Ireland protocol but their negotiating teams will meet again in Brussels next week. Lord Frost acknowledged “some overlap between our positions on a subset of the issues” but said substantial gaps remained.
The EU has offered sweeping changes to the way the protocol is implemented, which would eliminate most checks on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland but will not entertain Lord Frost’s demand to remove the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in determining if single market rules are being applied properly.