Forget 'trivial' fishing row or risk ruining crucial Cop26 talks, Boris and Macron told

31 October 2021, 09:03 | Updated: 31 October 2021, 09:09

Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron have been told to put fishing arguments to one side for Cop26
Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron have been told to put fishing arguments to one side for Cop26. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Britain and France have been told to put their "trivial" fishing dispute to one side or else risk ruining the Cop26 climate talks.

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The two countries have escalated a war of words over French fishermen's access to UK waters, with Paris threatening to take retaliatory measures from Tuesday if more licences to fish are not issued.

The UK Government, meanwhile, has accused France of a "pattern" of behaviour against Britain, with Brexit supremo Lord David Frost warning that legal proceedings afforded under the EU trade agreement are being considered.

Previously Paris suggested it would restrict energy supplies to the UK and Jersey over the row.

However, amid the hardening rhetoric, Professor Lord Nicholas Stern – who released a landmark Government report in 2006 warning of a catastrophe if climate action was delayed – said the two countries needed to work together instead of arguing about a "comparatively trivial" issue.

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His comments came ahead of the crucial climate talks in Glasgow this week, in which it is hoped leaders will agree measures that would lead to net zero emissions by 2050 and limit temperature rises to 1.5C.

Lord Stern said in The Observer: "There is a history of French and British leaders joining forces on climate change despite major political differences, such as Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair after the Iraq war.

"And both countries must also find a way to work with China on climate change."

Meanwhile, Chris Venables, head of politics at environmental charity the Green Alliance, said it was "frankly ridiculous" the row "could destabilise the start of Cop26".

France and the UK have sharply escalated the dispute, with French prime minister Jean Castex telling European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen that London should be shown "it causes more damage to leave the EU than to stay in".

France has also threatened to block British fishing boats from some ports and tighten up customs checks on lorries entering the country with British goods from Tuesday if more fishing licences aren't issued.

Lord Frost said the move was "very troubling and very problematic", given the "highly sensitive" negotiations with the EU to try and resolve problems with the Northern Ireland protocol.

He said if France carried out threats, all of the EU would be in breach of the post-Brexit trade agreement.

Boris Johnson greeted French president Emmanuel Macron with a fist bump at the G20 summit in Rome on Saturday.

They have been expected to discuss the problem over the weekend.

Downing Street said Boris Johnson spoke to Ms von der Leyen about France's behaviour, too.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: "The Prime Minister raised his concerns about the rhetoric from the French government in recent days over the issue of fishing licences.

"The Prime Minister stressed that the French threats are completely unjustified and do not appear to be compatible with the UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement or wider international law."