UK denies fishing rights row is resolved and puts pressure on France to 'withdraw threats'

31 October 2021, 14:49 | Updated: 31 October 2021, 15:43

Fishing rights have been a hot topic of debate between the two nations since before the 2016 Brexit referendum.
Fishing rights have been a hot topic of debate between the two nations since before the 2016 Brexit referendum. Picture: Alamy

By Elizabeth Haigh

Downing Street has today denied claims the UK and France have come to an agreement to de-escalate the row over fishing rights following the UK's departure from the EU.

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PM Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron were pictured in a "brush-by" meeting at the G20 summit in Rome earlier today.

French officials reportedly claimed the two nations had decided to resolve their differences earlier today.

But a spokesperson for the PM confirmed the UK does not recognise an agreement having been made.

At the centre of the dispute are the licences for small boats, which are issued only if the vessels can demonstrate a history of fishing in British waters.

The spokesperson said: "It will be for the French to decide if they want to step away from the threats they have made in recent days about breaching the Brexit (trade) agreement."

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He added: "The Prime Minister reiterated his deep concern over the rhetoric emanating from the French government in recent days, including the suggestion by the French prime minister that the UK should be punished for leaving the EU.

"He expressed his hope that the French government would de-escalate this rhetoric and withdraw their threats."

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

The ship's captain is understood to be an Irish national and has been told to face a court hearing in August next year.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss ordered Catherine Colonna, French ambassador to the UK, to the Foreign Office on Friday afternoon to challenge her over France's stance and rhetoric.

The French have threatened to bar British fishing boats from entering certain ports and enforce tighter checks on goods from the UK entering the country from Tuesday unless more licences are granted to fish in British waters.

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.

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France's Europe Minister Clement Beaune tweeted that Paris "stands ready to implement proportionate and reversible measures from November 2, as we have announced repeatedly since last April".

He claimed that more than 40% of "detailed requests" from French vessels had been denied.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex recently wrote to President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen about the row, insisting that the UK has demonstrated it is more damaging to leave the EU than to remain.

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The PM is believed to have raised the letter, which was published on social media, with the president at the G20 yesterday.

A Downing Street spokesperson said: "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."

Mr Johnson is also believed to have told the president he is happy to review any further evidence of licences being denied.

The debate comes as leaders from all over the world are set to descend on Glasgow for the long-awaited COP26 environmental summit to tackle climate change.