The British only ‘understand the language of force’, says French minister in fishing row

Oct 28, 2021 News

The British only ‘understand the language of force’, says French minister in fishing row

‘It is a fight’

The vessel was detained off Le Havre yesterday as Paris vowed to block British trawlers from its ports from next week in retaliation for the Government’s refusal to grant more access to French fishermen to operate in the UK’s coastal waters.

The French maritime ministry said it gave warnings overnight to two boats, one of which was detained and redirected to the port at Le Havre after allegedly operating in the country’s waters without a licence.

"It’s not war, but it is a fight," Annick Girardin, France’s maritime minister, told RTL radio.

Describing the seizure, she wrote on Twitter: "Two English ships were fined during classic checks off Le Havre. 

“The first did not comply spontaneously: verbalisation. The second did not have a licence to fish in our waters: diverted to the quay and handed over to the judicial authority."

A British trawler Cornelis Gert Jan is seen moored in the port of Le Havre after it was seized by France

Credit: Sarah Meyssonnier/REUTERS

Boat was ‘fishing legally’

Britain’s Environment minister George Eustice said that the vessel did have a licence to fish in the area.

"They were on the list that was provided by the MMO (Marine Management Organisation) initially to the European Union. The European Union therefore did grant a licence," he told parliament.

"We are seeing some reports that for some reason, they were subsequently withdrawn from the list. It is unclear why that might have been at the moment." 

France threatens sanctions

Paris is furious that just 15 permits have been granted to French fishermen to operate in Britain’s coastal waters out of 47 applications.

Its government announced a series of sanctions it would take against Britain until further permits were granted. 

Paris has threatened to ramp up its border checks on goods arriving from Britain, blocking access to British fishing boats to its ports, and is working on a second round of measures that could affect power supplies.

Mr Beaune said: “All the British boats that want to land their fish, their catches in our ports, that will be finished apart from a few exceptions.”

Gabriel Attal, a French government spokesman, said: “Things are clear and we have said that we won’t let the British wipe their feet on the Brexit agreement. In concrete terms the government has established a list of licences to which we have the right.

“We have been working with the British and we have given them all the data, all the documents, all the information they request in support of these applications. What we see today is that 50 per cent of the licences to which we have the right are missing. This is a situation that is not acceptable and I say clear that our patience has run out.”

French fishermen who have just returned from sea protesting with a fleet of fishing boats in the territorial waters of Jersey

Credit: Siegfried Modola/Getty Images Europe

Downing Street threatens to retaliate

The UK said Thursday that the threat by France to block British boats from its ports appeared to breach international law, and the government vowed to retaliate if Paris goes ahead with the move.

"France’s threats are disappointing and disproportionate, and not what we would expect from a close ally and partner," a Government spokesman said

They added that the measures "do not appear to be compatible" with the UK-EU Brexit withdrawal agreement "and wider international law, and, if carried through, will be met with an appropriate and calibrated response".

Fishing row has been ‘politicised’ 

Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former leader of the Conservatives, accused President Emmanuel Macron of using the row to shore up his support ahead of next year’s French elections.

"We know the French presidency is up for grabs at the moment and the current French president isn’t that popular.

"He’s trying to pull the tail of the lion, which is what French politicians always do when they get a bit stuck. So there’s a lot of posturing," Sir Iain told talkRADIO.

Fishermen on both sides of the Channel have warned they risk losing out as a result of the post-Brexit fish war.

Olivier Lepretre, head of the Hauts-de-France fishing council, said: “I think it is always better to negotiate because we all know that if we go to war, the fishermen of both countries will lose. I am convinced of it.”

His comments were echoed by Barrie Deas, of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations. He said: "It may be normal enforcement action but against the background of belligerent noises from the French government that seems unlikely. 

“The only way I can make sense of this escalation and the belligerent noises coming out of Paris on what is a technical issue, is to see a connection to the forthcoming Presidential election.

"Of course the French fleets are very exposed if we descend into tot for tat as they fish much more in UK waters than we fish in theirs.”

Mr Deas also conceded that a fish war would hurt both sides, adding: “This is a technical issue and should not be politicised.”

The British only 'understand the language of force', says French minister in fishing row

British fishing trawler Cornelis Gert Jan is pictured at sea

Credit: ARJAN BUURVELD via REUTERS

Negotiations ongoing

European Commission and UK officials are currently locked in “boat-by-boat” negotiations over the excluded vessels.

A spokesman for the EU’s Brussels-based executive said France had agreed to withdraw 17 of those requests because the vessels had supplied insufficient evidence that they are allowed to operate in Britain’s waters after Brexit.

A further 15 licences are being debated, and could still be issued licences if further evidence is found for their right to fish off the UK’s coast.

France could also deliberately scupper post-Brexit discussions over the Northern Ireland Protocol, it was warned. 

“No other European cooperation issue with the United Kingdom will be able to move forward without restoring trust and fully applying the signed agreements," its government said.

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