France is preparing possible sanctions against the UK, which could affect the country’s power supplies, over issues with fishing licences.
France’s government has claimed its country’s fishermen lack half the licences they require to fish in British waters, and they are owed them after Brexit.
France protested the decision last month by the UK and the Channel Island of Jersey to refuse dozens of French fishing boats licences to operate in their territorial waters.
The country considers the restrictions as contrary to the post-Brexit agreement that the British government signed when it left the European Union.
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Officials said that they are working on possible sanctions against the UK, which could be made public as early as Thursday and imposed as soon as next week, unless enough progress is made on the issue.
Government spokesman Gabriel Attal highlighted that France’s supply of electricity to Britain could be one of the measures that could come into effect if “there is no change in policy”.
He added: “There are several types of sanctions possible, including tariffs on energy, on the access to ports, on customs, and other measures are possible.”
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He said there are two sets of key measures being considered, the first could apply from 2 November for several days and will concern “imported goods unloaded in France”.
The second set will be “energy measures such as electricity supply for the Channel Islands”.
Under the Brexit trade deal, which came into force on 1 January, EU fishermen continue to have some rights to fish in UK waters as part of a transition period until 2026.
Analysis by Adam Parsons, Europe correspondent
Fishing has always had a disproportionately big role in the discussion about Brexit, and so it is again.
This time, it’s the French on the front foot, threatening big reprisals because of a dispute over a small number of fishing licences.
If it’s not resolved, then British boats could be banned from French ports, and Scottish smoked salmon ripped from French menus.
What’s more, it could also involve electricity supplies being cut to the Channel Islands, and a go-slow by French customs. These are not trivial inconveniences, but big, meaty threats.
A couple of days ago, Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, seemed calmly accepting of the row, saying that the UK was following Brexit rules to the letter, and awarding licences to all the boats who supplied the right evidence. It was, he seemed to suggest, simply a teething problem of Brexit.
The French, by contrast, say the process is too slow and laborious, and that their fishing community is suffering because of Britain’s intransigence.
Talks to sort this out have been going on for a while, with the European Commission acting as the middle-man.
More licences have slowly been handed out. But the French insist that, in the absence of significant progress by early next week, the reprisals will begin.
Emmanuel Macron has an election next year and knows that sticking up for fishermen plays well with voters in northern France.
It also supports his plan to present himself as Europe’s most decisive leader, the man to fill the de-facto leadership role that will be vacated by Angela Merkel.
Boris Johnson, always casting his own eye on public opinion, is well aware that fishing rights became a totemic topic among many Brexit voters. And bearing in mind his other battle with Europe, over the Northern Ireland Protocol, he won’t want to be seen to back down too readily.
Compromise still looks like the most likely option. After all, a huge squabble between two old friends really does seem unnecessary here.
But a resolution will require cool heads, gentle diplomacy and level-headed thinking – France’s decisions to go public with its threats may not help that process.
The French government says it could ban British fishing boats from its harbours as soon as next week, in an escalating row over granting fishing licences.
The British government maintains that it has already issued 98% of fishing licences and that this dispute concerns a relatively tiny number of boats.
However, under the new rules, EU boats wanting to fish within 12 miles of the UK coast need to be licensed and prove they have a history of fishing in those waters in order to carry on operating.
This includes submitting evidence of their past fishing activities.
France currently claims its fishermen are lacking around 50% of the licences they are entitled to.
Asked about the situation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said: “It is important to stress that98% of fishing licences have been granted.
“We continue to work with the French government on granting more based on the evidence they provide, as you know a number of additional licences have been granted in recent weeks.
“We will continue to have discussions with them on that point.”
France’s European affairs minister, Clement Beaune, separately told a French parliamentary hearing that the country could step up border checks on goods from Britain if the situation regarding the fishing licences did not improve.
“Our objective is not to impose these measures, it is to get the licences,” Mr Beaune added.
The dispute centres on the issuance of licences to fish in territorial waters six to 12 nautical miles off Britain’s shores, as well as in the seas off the coast of Jersey, a Crown Dependency in the Channel.
Tensions over the situation caused both France and Britain to dispatch maritime vessels off the shores of Jersey earlier this year.
Source : Sky News