Eustice: France has made 'extraordinary threats' in row over post-Brexit fishing rights

28 October 2021, 18:59 | Updated: 29 October 2021, 09:22

France is ‘deliberately frustrating the flow of goods’ in post-Brexit fishing row, says Eustice
France is ‘deliberately frustrating the flow of goods’ in post-Brexit fishing row, says Eustice. Picture: LBC

By Asher McShane

George Eustice has hit out at France for "deliberately frustrating the flow of goods" at fishing ports in a "breach" of the Brexit agreement.

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The row over post-Brexit fishing rights has turned increasingly bitter, with a UK boat detained in a French port and threats of further action by the Paris government.

Diplomatic efforts to resolve the row have involved the UK's ambassador in Paris, Menna Rawlings, and Cabinet minister George Eustice talking to ministers in the French government.

When asked this morning on LBC why the French ambassador had been summoned, the secretary of state for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: "Well look, France has made some rather extraordinary threats on Wednesday that they would start to change the way they ran ports to deliberately frustrate the flow of goods, that they would ban UK vessels from landing in their fishing ports.

"Again these things would be a breach of the agreements that we have got with the EU, probably a breach of EU law as well so in the first instance we are doing what we always do as a country, which is to raise these concerns through diplomatic channels."

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Mr Eustice added: "I think in this particular instance, the problem is, France announced on Wednesday that they were going to politicise the inspection of vessels and the boarding of vessels and politicise the way they ran boarders in order to as they say ‘retaliate’."

But in a sign of growing concern in Westminster, Brexit minister Lord Frost chaired a meeting to consider the Government's response.

A Government spokesman said on Thursday: “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% 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.”

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France has detained a British fishing trawler and delivered a verbal warning to another.

The two boats were also fined on Wednesday after they were said to have 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.

Members of the fishing industry said the 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."