TEHRAN (Iran News) – A British government spokesman has strongly condemned as “unjustified” threats emerging from France that Paris will take further action amid an ongoing dispute. A fishing vessel belonging to the UK was seized by France and its captain charged, while another has been issued with a fine. A UK government minister has warned France that “two can play at that game.”
One of the vessels, the Cornelis, has been detained and taken into the French port of Le Havre in Normandy. According to the French Maritime Ministry, both the ships were fined during “classic checks off Le Havre.” It added: “The first did not comply spontaneously: verbalization (warning). The second did not have a license to fish in our waters: diverted to the quay and handed over to the judicial authority (detained).” One trawler was fined for objecting to checks after it initially refused a request to be boarded by French naval police. It was later not found to have been in breach of regulations.
The detained British scallop trawler is owned by Scotland-based Macduff Shellfish, which says the punitive French measure appears to be “politically motivated’ and claims they had been fishing legally in French waters. Andrew Brown, a director at Macduff Shellfish said, “we’ve not had this issue” previously. In a separate interview he said the fishing trawler was being used as a “pawn in an ongoing dispute” between the two sides.
The UK environment minister George Eustice warned France, “if they do bring these measures into place, well, two can play at that game, and we obviously reserve the ability to respond in a proportionate way.”
UK foreign minister Liz Truss says that she had called in the French envoy to explain “disproportionate threats made against the UK and Channel Islands.” Truss said, “I have instructed Europe Minister Wendy Morton to summon the French Ambassador to the UK for talks tomorrow to explain the disappointing and disproportionate threats made against the UK and Channel Islands.”
The UK says the French response could breach international law, calling the threats “disappointing and disproportionate.”
A UK government spokesperson says, “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.” The spokesperson added 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.”
The official added, “we repeat that the government has granted 98% of license 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.”
It is the latest escalation in an angry dispute between Paris and London over the right on where the two sides can fish in the waters separating the two countries. France argues that its fishermen have not been issued with half the licenses they had been designated that allowed them to fish in British waters as stipulated by the Brexit agreement.
Last month, France protested a move by both the UK and the Channel Island of Jersey to refuse dozens of French fishing boats licenses to operate in their territorial waters. According to French officials, more than 200 French fishermen are still waiting to be approved so they can operate in waters ranging between six and 12 miles from British shores, particularly near Jersey Island.
The French Maritime Minister Annick Girardin dismissed British claims that 98 percent of applications by EU vessels had been approved, saying the true figure was 90 percent. She slammed the alleged decision by London that “all the ones without licenses are French, except for one or two Belgians.”
The French Europe Minister Clement Beaune argues his country had to use “the language of force,” saying “that’s the only language this British government understands.” He warned a second set of retaliatory action could follow if no progress is made; the minister warned these measures could include electricity price hikes for Jersey and other Channel islands that take power from France. The Channel Islands (two separate countries Jersey and Guernsey that are geographically closer to France but part of the British Isles). Beaune said the number of fishing licenses awarded are “not enough and not acceptable.”
A statement from Jersey’s Minister for Environment, Deputy John Young, and the Minister for External Relations, Senator Ian Gorst, said they were “extremely disappointed at the French government’s announcement.”
The issue is just as serious for London as the British fishing industry relies on French ports as a gateway to Europe, which is its main export market. London has promised “an appropriate and calibrated response” to France’s action. British Brexit Secretary David Frost also weighed in, saying, “I remain concerned by French plans on fisheries and beyond. We expect to have more to say on this issue.”
France considers these restrictions contrary to the post-Brexit agreement the UK signed when it left the EU. Paris has warned that continued denial of licenses would lead to retaliatory measures as soon as next week, including time-consuming checks on all products and a ban on UK vessels landing seafood.
It has released a list of sanctions that could apply from 2 November if the row is not resolved. These include Banning British fishing vessels in some French ports, Reinforcement of customs and hygiene controls, Routine security checks on British vessels, and Reinforcement of controls on Lorries to and from the UK.
Speaking to French media, Clement Beaune, France’s Europe minister, says, “so now, we need to speak the language of strength since that seems to be the only thing this British government understands.”
Macduff Shellfish says, “On 27 October, Macduff’s scallop vessel Cornelis was boarded by the French authorities and ordered into the French port of Le Harve while legally fishing for scallop in French waters. Access to French waters for the UK scallop fleet is provided under Brexit Fisheries Agreement. Macduff’s fishing activity is entirely legal. It appears our vessel is another pawn in the ongoing dispute between the UK and France on the implementation of the Brexit Fishing Agreement”.
The company added that it was 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”.
British Home Secretary Priti Patel says, “It is disappointing, and we as a country have fulfilled all of our obligations under the TCA (Trade and Cooperation Agreement). But at the same time, across government discussions will continue – both at commission level but also with counterparts within the French administration.” Environment secretary George Eustice told the House of Commons he had asked officials to “urgently investigate” the incident.
As the UK withdrew from the European Union, it appears unlikely the 27-member bloc will take London’s side in this dispute.
A European Commission spokesperson pointed out they have taken note of the comments made by both countries, saying, “our Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the UK is clear: vessels who were fishing in these waters should be allowed to continue. All French vessels entitled to a license should receive one. Fishing license applications are a top priority, and we are working hard to support this process”.
Maybe not the reaction London was hoping for from Brussels.