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Picture: 123RF/SUAT DEMIRIZ
Picture: 123RF/SUAT DEMIRIZ

The UK suggested it could respond in kind to French threats to disrupt trade, ratcheting up the tensions in an increasingly bitter dispute over post-Brexit fishing access.

France argues that its vessels are being wrongly denied licenses to fish in British waters, and this week threatened to blockade UK trawlers and raise energy prices in the British Channel Islands if more fishing licenses aren’t granted by a November 2 deadline. Clement Beaune, junior minister for European affairs, said the British government only understands the language of “force.”

“That is completely inflammatory and is the wrong way to go about things,” UK environment secretary George Eustice, whose remit includes fisheries, told Times Radio on Friday. Asked how Britain would respond if France follows through on its threats, he said: “Two can play at that game, and so we would take the appropriate response.”

Though Eustice also said the UK still wants to tackle the issue through diplomatic channels, his remarks will do little to ease tensions between the two Nato allies. On Thursday, UK foreign secretary Liz Truss said she’d ordered Europe minister Wendy Morton to summon the French ambassador on Friday to “to explain the disappointing and disproportionate threats made against the UK and Channel Islands.”

Boris Johnson is due to speak to French President Emmanuel Macron this weekend in a “brush-by” meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Rome, the prime minister’s spokesperson, Jamie Davies, told reporters in London on Friday.

‘Strong Ally’

He declined to confirm whether fisheries will be discussed, saying only that they’ll talk about “a range of issues” and that “France remains a close and strong ally.” Macron’s office said the meeting may take place on Sunday,he said.

Fishing rights become a major flash point in the post-Brexit relationship between France and the UK. Earlier this year, both countries deployed warships in the English Channel and the French government suggested it could cut power supplied by Electricite de France to the island of Jersey, before backing off.

During his media round on Friday, Eustice told BBC radio that as well as summoning the ambassador, the country has raised the latest French warnings with the European Commission.

“We’ve spoken to the European commission, who represent France on these types of matters, and the European Commission have obviously got a role to ensure that France remains within the law,” he said.

Andrea Sasse, a spokesperson for the German foreign ministry, said Friday at a regular news conference in Berlin that it’s important for France and Britain to “return to the negotiations conducted in recent weeks and months.”

‘Respect’

“Respect for mutual fishing rights is one of the basic principles of the trade and co-operation agreement between the EU and Britain,” Sasse said. “We especially support the EU Commission in its effort to clear up specific issues, including in this particular case.”

Eustice also said the UK has granted fisheries access to almost 1,700 EU vessels in accordance with the terms of the trade agreement. UK officials are now working with the European Commission and French authorities to identify the data those vessels that have been refused access need to prove that they qualify for it, he said. 

UK Brexit minister David Frost said on Thursday he remains “concerned” by France’s plans and that he expects to have more to say on the issue on Friday.

Frost and European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic meet on Friday as they seek to resolve a dispute over post-Brexit trade arrangements in Northern Ireland, though Johnson’s spokesperson said the fisheries issue is also likely to be discussed.

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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