Downing Street insists Britain has not changed its approach on fishing licences

Taoiseach warns any UK unilateral action on Northern Ireland protocol would undermine the Belfast Agreement

Downing Street has insisted that Britain has not changed its approach to granting licences to French fishing boats, suggesting that David Frost's meeting with French Europe minister Clement Beaune on Thursday will focus on the Northern Ireland protocol. French president Emmanuel Macron this week postponed threatened retaliation against Britain while negotiations about the fishing licences continued.

But Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said there were no discussions about the fishing dispute beyond routine technical talks about individual licence applications.

“There are a regular series of meetings that have taken place to look at individual licensing applications with regards to fishing. There was one last week. There was one, I think yesterday (Monday). Those are not to look at the underlying approach to how licences are granted. We haven’t changed that approach.”

France had threatened to stop British fishing boats unloading their catch at French ports and to intensify checks on lorries in response to the rejection of some applications by French boats to continue fishing in waters around Jersey and Guernsey.


Mr Macron said on Monday night that he would not impose sanctions while negotiations continued, adding that they had resumed on the basis of a proposal he had made to the British prime minister.

Mr Johnson’s spokesman characterised Lord Frost’s meeting with Mr Beaune as a discussion of difficulties in Britain’s relationship with the EU, notably the protocol, rather than primarily about the fishing dispute.

“That’s certainly what they will be discussing when they meet on Thursday, it will be the protocol. It’s something we’re pleased that the French and EU have acknowledged requires that discussion. It’s obviously important to the people of Northern Ireland and the UK that we resolve that.”

The French Europe minister has no authority to negotiate with Britain about the protocol, which is the responsibility of European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic.

Lord Frost and Mr Sefcovic are due to meet in Brussels on Friday after a second week of talks between Britain and the EU about the protocol. Lord Frost has threatened to unilaterally suspend the protocol by triggering article 16 if the EU does not agree to remove the oversight role of the European Court of Justice.


Speaking in Glasgow where he is attending the Cop26 climate summit, Taoiseach Micheál Martin warned that any such unilateral action would undermine the Belfast Agreement.

“The sets of relationships that give rise to the Good Friday agreement, involving the British-Irish relationship, the North-South and the two traditions on the island, they’re very key relationships, and any unilateral actions or any pulling back from agreements already entered into in a unilateral way would, I think, have a negative impact on the Good Friday agreement.”

Mr Martin said US president Joe Biden had pulled him aside during the summit in Glasgow to tell him that he shared those concerns about the agreement.

“He was very clear that he’d made it clear to the British government that the Good Friday agreement matters a lot to him and to the United States government, and he doesn’t want to see anything that would undermine the agreement,” the Taoiseach said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times