Environment Secretary today urged to drop its ‘unacceptable’ fishing row threats as he said the UK will retaliate if Paris escalates the row, warning: ‘Two can play at that came.’
French ministers have said they will block British boats from some French ports and tighten checks on vessels if the UK does not agree to hand out more post-Brexit fishing licences by Tuesday next week.
Mr Eustice said the threats are ‘completely disproportionate’ and represent a ‘clear breach’ of the deal and EU law as he said Paris must now ‘calm this down and remove these threats’.
The French ambassador is being summoned to the Foreign Office today to explain France’s actions and Mr Eustice suggested the matter could also be raised at the highest level.
He said it is ‘possible’ that Boris Johnson will confront French President on the row when they meet at the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow which gets underway on Sunday.
The fishing row stepped up a gear yesterday after a UK trawler was detained by France amid fears the friction could spark a full-blown trade war.
The Cornelis Gert Jan was ordered to divert to Le Havre after French authorities said it did not have a licence.
The trawler’s boss claimed his vessel was being used as a ‘pawn’ in the fishing dispute and blasted the ‘politically motivated’ French.
Two Royal Navy patrol vessels were last night said to be on a state of ‘high readiness’ in case of further fallout, but there was no immediate sign they would be required.
Environment Secretary George Eustice today urged France to drop its ‘unacceptable’ fishing row threats as he said the UK will retaliate if Paris escalates the row, warning: ‘Two can play at that came.’
Britain was last night preparing to retaliate after a UK trawler — the Cornelis Gert Jan (pictured right in in Le Havre, France, October 28, 2021) — was detained by France amid fears the fishing row could spark a full-blown trade war
Mr Eustice said it is ‘possible’ that Boris Johnson will confront French President Emmanuel Macron on the row when they meet at the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow
The Government has accused the French of breaking international law and France’s ambassador to will be hauled in today to face questioning.
Liz Truss said French ambassador Catherine Colonna would be expected to attend the Foreign Office ‘to explain the disappointing and disproportionate threats made against the UK and Channel Islands’.
French ministers warned this week they will block British boats from some French ports and tighten checks on vessels travelling between France and the UK if the issue of post-Brexit fishing licenses is not resolved by November 2.
They have also threatened the electricity supply to the Channel Islands.
UK ministers were yesterday reportedly presented with retaliatory options should Paris press ahead with its threat next week, with one such option including further restricting French fishing access to UK waters.
Another potential move on the table in the ‘options paper’, presented to a Cabinet sub-committee chaired by Lord Frost, is the stepping up of checks on French vessels landing in UK ports, according to the Daily Telegraph.
Mr Eustice this morning urged Paris to withdraw its threats as he warned the UK stands ready to retaliate.
He told Sky News: ‘We think that the comments that have been made by France on this are completely disproportionate, they are unacceptable.
‘The things that they are suggesting doing which is basically starting to be difficult at the borders and close ports and so on, this is a clear breach not only of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement that we have got with them but also of EU law, the official control regime.
‘We don’t really think it is justified at all because this is a very small number of vessels that just don’t qualify under the terms of the agreement that was reached.
‘And so what we are asking France to do is obviously try to calm this down and remove these threats, they are not acceptable.’
Asked how the UK could respond to an escalation, he said: ‘The first thing is, as the UK, the way that we approach these things and the way you should is we will be talking to the European Commission.
‘In fact I spoke to the commissioner two days ago when these threats were first made, because the European Commission has got a role and a responsibility to make sure its member states, including France, abide by the law, abide by the terms of the agreement that was reached.
‘We have also summoned the French ambassador.Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, is going to raise these issues with her and ask her to explain and give an account of what they intend to do.
‘We don’t know what they will do. They say they wouldn’t introduce these measures until Tuesday, probably at the earliest, so we will see what they do.
Pictured: French gendarmes aboard the Cornelis-Gert Jan scallop boat which has been impounded by the French Gendarmerie Maritime
‘But obviously if they do bring these into place, well two can play at that game. We obviously reserve the ability to be able to respond in a proportionate way.’
Mr Eustice also suggested Mr Johnson could raise the issue with Mr Macron in the coming days.
He said: ‘It is also possible that the Prime Minister will have an opportunity to meet President Macron obviously because they will both be gathering, getting ready for COP26.’
Mr Johnson and Mr Macron will be in the same room on Saturday as they attend a G20 summit in Rome.
However, there is not thought to be a bilateral meeting scheduled between the pair but they could meet in Glasgow in the following days.
Mr Eustice suggested Mr Macron could be stepping up the fishing row because he is facing a difficult election next year.
He told the BBC: ‘I don’t know, but there obviously is an election coming up in France, it may be that is a factor in this.’
The Cornelis and its eight crewmen languished in port last night, with the crew being told to stay on board.As of Thursday night, there was no indication when it would be allowed to leave.
With its blue hull, white bridge and red winches it has a somewhat ironic French tricolour appearance.
Andrew Brown, director of the boat’s owners, formale-ontologie.de MacDuff Shellfish, told the Daily Mail the French were ‘exploiting’ supposed confusion over post-Brexit paperwork.
But Mr Brown also feared an ‘admin error’ on the UK side as the Cornelis appears to have ‘dropped off’ a list of licensed vessels British authorities sent to Europe.
Mr Brown said: https://hpl.hp.com ‘It appears our vessel is another pawn in the ongoing dispute between the UK and France on the implementation of the Brexit Fishing Agreement.
‘They have the right to query things if they feel there is some kind of error in any of the paperwork, but they don’t usually behave in such a heavy-handed manner.’
Two British boats were stopped by French police while fishing in Baie de la Seine on Wednesday.The captain of one was fined and let go after refusing to let officers board, but the second was detained and taken to Le Havre for allegedly fishing without a licence
The Cornelis set off on a five-day fishing trip from Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex, at 12.30am on Tuesday and entered French waters that evening.
It fished uninterrupted until French vessel Athos intercepted it in the Baie de la Seine at around 6pm on Wednesday.The Cornelis was escorted into Le Havre port.
A UK Government spokesman said last night: ‘Lord Frost chaired a ministerial meeting earlier today to consider the UK response to the measures set out by France yesterday.
‘The proposed French actions are unjustified and do not appear to be compatible on the EU’s part with the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) or wider international law.We regret the confrontational language that has been consistently used by the French government on this issue, which makes this situation no easier to resolve.
‘We have raised our concerns strongly with both the French and the EU Commission. As a next step, the Foreign Secretary has instructed Minister Morton to summon the French Ambassador.
‘We repeat that the Government has granted 98 per cent of licence applications from EU vessels to fish in the UK’s waters and, as has consistently been made clear, will consider any further evidence on the remainder.’