France detains British trawler in major escalation of Brexit fishing row

28 October 2021, 06:35 | Updated: 28 October 2021, 16:18

A British fishing trawler has been detained in France.
A British fishing trawler has been detained in France. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

France has detained a British fishing trawler and given a verbal warning to another, a French Government minister said.

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The 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.

A statement posted by French Minister of the Sea Annick Girardin said checks had been carried out by authorities on boats in the Baie de Seine, near Le Havre, in the north of the country.

One trawler was fined for obstructing checks after it initially refused a request to to be boarded by police, but was later found not to have been in breach of regulations, the statement said.

The ministry said the second boat was not on a list of UK vessels with licences granted by the European Commission and France, and was subsequently ordered to divert to Le Havre.

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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.

Andrew Brown, director of sustainability and public affairs at Macduff, said: "It appears our vessel has been caught up in the ongoing dispute between the UK and France on the implementation of the Brexit fishing agreement.

"The Cornelis does have catch aboard. This may be confiscated by the French authorities unless a speedy resolution is achieved.

"We are looking to the UK Government to defend the rights of the UK fishing fleet and ensure that the fishing rights provided under the Brexit fishing agreement are fully respected by the EU."

The detainment is the latest twist in an ongoing row over post-Brexit fishing between the UK and France.

France is accusing Britain of not issuing them with the licences they were promised in the Brexit agreement, which would allow them to fish in British waters.

Members of the fishing industry said today's development shows the issue has been "politicised" by the French, who are "determined" to escalate the dispute.

Barrie Deas, from the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, the body representing fishermen in England, said: "It may be normal enforcement action but against the background of the threatening noises coming from the French government... it's very concerning.

"France seems determined to escalate this issue about licences and I suppose we have to wonder why."

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Mr Deas suggested the fishing issue was being emphasised in France because of the upcoming presidential election.

He added that there were not even that many British boats landing in French ports, and so 'descending into a tit for tat relationship' would leave the French fleet "very much more exposed".

"It's a strange direction for the French to take, which is why we conclude that this has all been politicised," he said.

It comes just a day after the UK Government vowed to retaliate if France went ahead with "disappointing and disproportionate" fishing sanctions against the UK.

The French Government said it would block British vessels from some ports and tighten checks on vessels travelling between the two countries if the dispute was not resolved by Thursday.

Paris even suggested it could restrict energy supplies to the Channel Islands if a resolution was not found.

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No10 said the threats did not seem to be compatible with "international law" and vowed an "appropriate and calibrated response" if Paris did not back down.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said the UK fully supported the way Jersey and Guernsey were handling the issue, which was "entirely in line" with the provisions of Britain's trade deal with the EU.

"We are monitoring this situation very carefully. We have relayed our concerns to the (European) Commission and the French government," the spokesman said.

"We think the threats outlined yesterday evening were disappointing, were disproportionate and were simply not what we expect from a close ally and partner.

"I can't at this moment set out exactly what our response might be. It will be appropriate, it will be calibrated.

"We want to have further discussions with French government and the EU. We stand ready to respond appropriately."

UK Brexit Minister Lord Frost said yesterday the Government was seeking "urgent clarification" on France's plans.

"It is very disappointing that France has felt it necessary to make threats late this evening against the UK fishing industry and seemingly traders more broadly," he said.

"As we have had no formal communication from the French Government on this matter we will be seeking urgent clarification of their plans.

"We will consider what further action is necessary in that light."