UK and France seek solution to Brexit fishing rowon October 31, 2021 at 11:16 am

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Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron discuss the ongoing tensions in Rome and agree to work together.

French President Emmanuel Macron and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Image source, PA Media

It is “up to France” to solve the ongoing fishing row with the UK by stepping back from threats over access to ports, the UK government has said.

Boris Johnson met French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday to discuss the continuing tensions around permits for French fishing boats.

French officials said the pair had agreed to work together in the “next hours and days” on a solution.

But later, a No 10 spokesman said no measures had been agreed.

Instead, the official statement from Downing Street said the prime minister had “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”.

And it said Mr Johnson had “expressed his hope that the French government would de-escalate this rhetoric and withdraw their threats”.

A No 10 spokesman then went further, adding: “It’s down to France to decide if they want to step away from the deeply concerning threats.

“We are not seeking to escalate this. We would welcome it if they de-escalate and withdraw the threats they have made. [But] it will be for the French to decide.”

The comments appeared to contradict statements made by the French after the 30-minute informal meeting in Rome, where leaders of the world’s richest economies, the G20, are holding talks.

According to French officials, Mr Johnson and Mr Macron said they would “work to find a solution to the problem”.

A statement from the Elysee Palace said the two leaders “agreed to continue talks in the next hours and days regarding fishing licences”.

It also said Mr Macron wanted to “continue the dialogue on the basis of exactingness, seriousness and respect”, adding: “The French president told his counterpart about the need to respect commitments taken jointly by the UK and the EU in the Brexit agreement.”

Although fishing is a small part of both the British and French economies, it has played a large part politically throughout Brexit.

But this particular row began after a British trawler was seized by France and another fined during checks off Le Havre on Thursday.

Since then, the wider issue of how many licenses the UK grants to France post-Brexit to fish in British waters has come to the fore.

France was angered by a decision from the UK and Jersey last month to deny fishing licences to dozens of French boats and argued this breached the Brexit deal.

It then warned it would block British boats from landing their catches in some French ports next week and tighten checks on UK boats and trucks if the dispute over fishing licences was not resolved by Tuesday.

France has also said it could cut electricity supplies to Jersey, a British Crown dependency, as it previously threatened in May.

Speaking on Saturday, Mr Johnson acknowledged there was “turbulence” in the UK’s relationship with France, but insisted the things that united the two countries were more important than their divisions.

However, taking to Twitter, his Brexit minister Lord Frost said on Saturday the government was “actively considering” launching a legal process against France under the Brexit agreement, as a result of the “threats”.

He tweeted: “We will continue to talk constructively to try to resolve all the differences between us, and we urge the EU and France to step back from rhetoric and actions that make this more difficult.”

On Sunday, France’s minister for Europe, Clément Beaune, replied to Lord Frost, saying France had been “negotiating patiently and constructively for 10 months”.

He rejected claims there had been technical issues leading to the problems, saying: “It’s not a technical issue, it’s a political choice and a breach of the [Brexit deal].”

He added: “A friend, ally and responsible partner should stand by its word and comply with legal commitments.”

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