Fishing row: France will toughen port and border checks unless UK makes 'significant move'

1 November 2021, 06:40 | Updated: 1 November 2021, 07:47

The post-Brexit fishing licences dispute continues between France and the UK.
The post-Brexit fishing licences dispute continues between France and the UK. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

The French President Emmanuel Macron has threatened to bar UK fishing boats from some ports and tighten customs checks at borders unless Britain makes a "significant move" and grants more licences.

Boris Johnson and Mr Macron had a 30-minute meeting at the G20 summit in Rome, where they discussed the fishing licences row which has heated up in recent days.

In comments made before the Rome talks, a commission spokesman said the trade deal made provision that "vessels who were fishing in these waters before (Brexit) should be allowed to continue" and implored Britain to look at each case, "boat-by-boat".

The debate over fishing access escalated this week after French authorities detained a Scottish-registered scallop dredger, accusing it of fishing without a licence.

Two boats were fined on Wednesday after one failed to comply with checks by police and the other was found not to hold a proper licence, the French maritime ministry said.

However, the owner of the Cornelis, Macduff Shellfish, said the vessel had been fishing legally in French waters and called on the Government to protect the rights of British fishermen.

Read more: France detains British trawler in major escalation of Brexit fishing row

Read more: No10 vows to retaliate against France as Brexit fishing row heightens over sanctions

Mr Macron said that unless Britain made a "significant move", Paris would introduce more stringent port and border checks from Tuesday.

He told Mr Johnson that the ball is in his court to resolve the Channel fishing row, with less than 24 hours left to find a solution.

He said they will bar UK fishing boats from some ports and tighten customs checks on lorries entering France, unless more licences are granted.

But UK officials said these threats are a breach of the post-Brexit agreement with the EU.

France claims dozens of French boats have applied to fish in British waters and been denied.

The UK has warned France that, if it does act next week, then it is prepared to kick-start legal proceedings, arguing that Paris will have violated the terms of the trade agreement with Brussels.

In a post-G20 press briefing, Mr Macron told reporters: "The ball is now in their court.

"If the British don't do any significant move, measures starting from November 2 will need to be implemented.

"I would deplore it. But what we cannot do is not respond and not defend our fishermen."

Mr Macron's comments are likely to only heighten tensions as both leaders prepare to take part in the UN Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow on Monday, with fears on the UK side that the row has overshadowed the build-up to the crucial summit.

Read more: UK 'actively considering' legal action against France amid ongoing fishing row

The Channel dispute appeared to deepen after a letter from French prime minister Jean Castex to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, in which he said the UK should be shown "it causes more damage to leave the EU than to stay in", was leaked over the weekend.

Mr Johnson admitted he was "puzzled" by the letter when he briefed reporters after the G20 talks.

Speaking at a press conference in the Italian capital, he said: "I must say I was puzzled to read a letter from the French prime minister explicitly asking for Britain to be punished for leaving the EU.

"I just have to say to everybody I don't believe that that is compatible either with the spirit or the letter of the Withdrawal Agreement or the Trade and Co-operation Agreement."

Downing Street denied the pair reached an agreement to de-escalate their increasingly bitter feud.

However, French officials were reported as saying they had agreed to try to resolve their differences but, in a briefing for British journalists, the Prime Minister's official spokesman made clear the UK did not recognise the claims.

Britain has been accused by France of making a "political choice" to bar "more than 40%" of French boats from UK and Channel Islands' waters after rejecting their applications.

Clement Beaune, France's secretary of state for European affairs, said the "proportionate and reversible measures" proposed by his country were "fully in line with the TCA".