France says it will hold off on retaliating over fishing dispute with Britain

Ministers commit to further negotiations as Paris meeting fails to break deadlock

France’s minister for European affairs Clément Beaune. Photograph: Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

France’s minister for European affairs Clément Beaune. Photograph: Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

 

Britain’s Brexit minister David Frost and France’s Europe minister Clément Beaune will speak by phone next week after a “useful and positive” meeting in Paris failed to resolve their dispute over fishing rights. Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said the French minister made clear that Paris would not retaliate in the next few days over Britain’s failure to grant licences to up to 200 fishing boats to operate in British coastal waters.

“We are not negotiating on how the licences are granted,” the spokesman said.

But Mr Beaune said he had agreed with Lord Frost to intensify talks on the licences, welcoming what he described as a new state of mind in the negotiations.

“The discussion was useful and positive,” he said. “We are giving a chance to dialogue and keeping options open, without naivety and with European co-ordination.”

Downing Street said the meeting was also about the Northern Ireland protocol, noting that as “a leading EU member state” France would have an important say in the process. Mr Beaune, who spent a year at Trinity College Dublin as an Erasmus student, noted later that he had worn what he called “a green, Irish tie” to meet Lord Frost.

Article 16

Lord Frost will discuss the protocol with his EU counterpart Maros Sefcovic in Brussels on Friday amid growing speculation that Britain is preparing to suspend parts of the agreement by triggering Article 16. Barry Andrews, one of 35 MEPs nominated to the post-Brexit EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly, said that could lead to the suspension of the entire Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA).

“It depends on what is suspended and what the UK government decides to do. They could decide to do something very discrete or they could be more expansive and simply suspend the protocol in total, which would therefore inevitably justify a proportionately greater reaction. And that could include suspension of the TCA. And that reality, I think, has to be understood,” he said during a visit to London. 

“I think we have come to a point where the European Commission has been extremely expansive, very responsive to the concerns that have been expressed in Northern Ireland. And I think therefore strong reaction is justified.”

Concessions

Britain complains that the concessions offered by the EU, which the commission says would eliminate 80 per cent of checks on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, do not go far enough. And Lord Frost is demanding that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) should no longer have oversight over the protocol, something Mr Andrews believes the EU cannot agree to.

“It’s inconceivable, in my opinion, that the European Court of Justice’s right to be a final arbiter on matters of EU law be undermined. I think that’s a principle of the European Union that we all signed up to when we became member states, and I think that sometimes that’s not fully recognised,” he said.

“I think particularly with a third country, if we were to concede on this point, I think it would be disastrous for the European Union. I think we can’t concede on that point, and I think there’s unity around that issue as well.”