On Monday, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Paris had ‘behaved unfairly’ and made ‘utterly unreasonable threats’, with both sides at odds over how many licenses the UK has granted to French vessels wishing to fish in its territorial waters.
France has said it could impose targeted measures from Tuesday, including stopping British ships disembarking at its ports and strengthening customs controls on British goods entering the country, if the dispute is not resolved.
London says it is distributing fishing licenses under the rules of the post-Brexit deal it signed with the European Union in December last year, but Paris says some French vessels have been denied allowed to operate in areas where they had fished for a long time.
Truss said she would “absolutely” take legal action in the coming days if France continued with its threat of sanctions.
“This issue needs to be resolved within the next 48 hours,” she told Sky News. “They must withdraw these threats, otherwise we will use the mechanisms of our trade agreement with the EU to take action.” “
Truss’s remarks came after France said on Sunday it was up to the UK to resolve the dispute, which escalated last week when French authorities arrested a British trawler.
The two sides painted different images of a meeting between British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President Emmanuel Macron on the sidelines of a Group of 20 (G20) summit in Rome.
Johnson said London’s position was unchanged, but added he was “puzzled” to read a letter from Paris to the EU asking “for Britain to be punished for leaving the EU”.
“I don’t think this is consistent with the spirit or the letter of the Withdrawal Agreement from the Trade and Cooperation Agreement,” he said, referring to the divorce and the Brexit trade deals. .
Macron, also speaking at a post-summit press conference, said he wanted a deal.
“I don’t want an escalation,” he said. “I don’t want to have to resort to retaliation because it wouldn’t help our fishermen. “
Macron said Paris had made proposals to London and “now the ball is in Britain’s court”.
The issue of fisheries has haunted Brexit discussions for years, not because of its economic importance but rather its political importance.
Fishing makes a small contribution to the French and British economies but is a lifeline for some coastal communities.