LONDON (AP) — A troubling post-Brexit fishing spat between Britain and France showed few signs of abating Monday, a day before a threatened French blockade of British boats and trucks.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warned France that the U.K. will “not roll over” in the face of what she termed “unreasonable” threats from Paris. French fishing crews stood their ground, demanding a political solution to a local dispute that has become the latest battleground between Britain and the European Union.
Both sides have accused each other of contravening the post-Brexit trade deal that the U.K. signed with the European Union, which came into force at the start of this year.
France has threatened to bar British boats from some of its ports and tighten checks on boats and trucks carrying British goods if more French vessels aren’t licensed to fish in U.K. waters by Tuesday. Paris has also suggested it might restrict energy supplies to the Channel Islands - British Crown dependencies that lie off the coast of France and are heavily dependent on French electricity.
“The French need to withdraw those threats otherwise we will use the dispute resolution mechanism in the EU deal to take action,” Truss told BBC radio. “We’re simply not going to roll over in the face of these threats.”
Fishing is a tiny industry economically, but one that looms large symbolically for both Britain and France, which have a long and cherished maritime tradition. Since the start of the year both sides have control of their waters subject to the terms of the post-Brexit trade deal.
Paris says some vessels have been denied permits to fish in waters where they have long sailed. Britain says it has granted 98% of applications from EU vessels, and now the dispute comes down to just a few dozen French boats with insufficient paperwork.
“We allocated the fishing licenses completely in line with what is in the trade agreement with the EU and the French need to withdraw those threats,” Truss said.
Dimitri Rogoff, who heads the regional fishing committee on the French coast near Jersey, said French crews have been providing paperwork for 10 months and don’t understand why some boats won permits and others haven’t.
He said he didn’t understand why Britain is making a big deal over “20 or 30 boats,” and that he hoped that the French government’s threats could “incite our British friends to be a bit more conciliatory.”
On Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met on the sidelines of the Group of 20 leaders summit in Rome, but little progress on resolving the dispute appears to have been made.
Macron has warned that unless Britain made a “significant move” to ease the dispute, Paris would introduce more stringent port and border checks from Tuesday.
Truss, echoing Johnson, said the U.K. would respond by triggering dispute resolution measures in the post-Brexit trade deal to seek “compensatory measures” if France carries out its threats.
The row is the latest to afflict relations between the British government and the EU since the U.K. left the economic orbit of the bloc at the start of this year.
Rogoff expressed disappointment at the lack of progress at the Macron-Johnson meeting and said French fishing crews are pawns in a diplomatic standoff.
Charlton contributed from Paris.
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