UK, France urged to calm escalation in fishing spat
French President Emmanuel Macron warned the dispute was testing the UK’s international credibility, while each country accused the other of violating the post-Brexit trade deal the UK government signed with the European Union before leaving the bloc.
As the war of words intensified, Britain said it “actively considered” taking legal action if France threatened to ban British fishing vessels from its ports and impose penalties. strict controls on UK catches.
“If there is a breach of the treaty (Brexit) or if we believe there is a breach of the treaty, we will do what is necessary to protect British interests,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson told British broadcasters in Rome , where he and Macron are. both participating in a Group of 20 summit.
At stake is fishing – an economically small industry that occupies a symbolically important place for maritime nations like Great Britain and France. Britain’s exit from the economic rules of the 27-nation bloc earlier this year means the UK now controls who fishes in its waters.
France claims that some vessels have been refused fishing permits in waters where they have been sailing for a long time. Britain claims to have granted 98% of requests from EU ships, and now the dispute boils down to a few dozen French ships with insufficient papers.
But France maintains it’s a matter of principle and wants to defend its interests as the two longtime allies and rivals embark on a new post-Brexit relationship.
The dispute escalated this week after French authorities accused a scallop dredger registered in Scotland of fishing without a license. The captain has been held in Le Havre and has been asked to appear in court next year.
France has threatened to block British boats crossing the Channel and to tighten checks on boats and trucks from Tuesday if licenses are not granted. France has also suggested that it could restrict energy supplies to the Channel Islands, British Crown dependencies off the French coast and heavily dependent on French electricity.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex called on the EU to support France in the dispute, saying the bloc should demonstrate to European citizens that “leaving the Union is more damaging than staying there”.
He said if France acted on the threats it “would put the EU in violation of its obligations under our trade deal”, and said Britain “was actively considering initiating dispute settlement proceedings. ”, A formal legal process in the agreement.
He urged France and the EU to “take a step back”.
Many European politicians and officials view Frost, who led the UK divorce deal negotiations, as inherently hostile to the bloc.
Macron, who is due to meet with Johnson on Sunday on the sidelines of the G-20 summit, defended France’s position and said the fishing dispute could damage Britain’s reputation in the world.
“Make no mistake, it’s not just for Europeans but all of their partners,” Macron told the Financial Times. “Because when you spend years negotiating a treaty and then a few months later, you do the opposite of what has been decided on aspects that suit you the least, that’s not a great sign of your credibility,”
Macron said he was sure Britain had “the goodwill” to resolve the dispute. “We have to respect each other and respect the word that has been given,” he said.
Johnson said the fisheries issue was a distraction from tackling climate change – high on the agenda of G-20 leaders at their meeting, which precedes a UN climate conference in Scotland next week.
“I’m looking at what’s going on right now and I think we need to fix it. But it’s frankly a small beer, insignificant compared to the threat to humanity we face, ”Johnson added.
Jean-Marc Puissesseau, president and chairman of the French ports of northern Calais and Boulogne-sur-Mer, said the conflict was “ridiculous” and urged both sides to resolve it.
He told BBC radio that the dispute only involved 40 boats – “a drop in the ocean” – and that there would be “terrible” consequences if France followed through on its threat to block British trawlers from the sea. French ports.
“If no agreement can be found, it will be a tragedy, it will be a disaster in your country because the trucks will not cross,” he said.
Jill Lawless reported from Rome. Pan Pylas contributed to this report from London.
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