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EU to try to resolve UK-France dispute over fishing rights

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EU to try to resolve UK-France dispute over fishing rights

Brussels is holding talks to try and defuse an escalating dispute over fishing rights that has seen relations between France and Britain descend into hostility in recent weeks.

The European Commission announced on Monday that a video meeting would be “convened by the commission this afternoon, bringing together senior officials from the commission, France, the UK, as well as from Jersey and Guernsey, to allow for a swift solution on the outstanding issues”.

The news came just hours after the UK foreign secretary warned that Britain would not “roll over” in the dispute, as Paris threatened to disrupt the flow of UK exports from Tuesday unless a deal was reached.

Liz Truss said France’s plan to escalate the quarrel was “completely unwarranted” and said Britain was ready to use dispute resolution mechanisms under its Brexit trade deal with the EU to settle the issue.

“The French need to withdraw these threats,” Truss told the BBC on Monday, as relations between the two countries hit another low point. “We are simply not going to roll over in the face of these threats.”

EU diplomats have welcomed the commission’s involvement in the dispute. One diplomat said Brussels’ decision to resolve the conflict is a “good step and [I] hope we can find a solution”.

But British officials insisted the meeting was unlikely to materially change the situation, unless the French presented new evidence on historic fishing activity. One added that London would continue to “hold ground”. 

The dispute over post-Brexit fishing licences is part of a wider set of grievances that have pitted UK prime minister Boris Johnson against French president Emmanuel Macron.

Macron is also furious that Britain is trying to renegotiate the Northern Ireland protocol, part of the UK’s withdrawal deal with the EU, while the issue of migrants crossing the English Channel is another running sore.

Tensions over fishing rights have been simmering for months after the UK failed to issue permits for some small French boats to fish in British waters under the Brexit agreement.

Paris had announced it would increase customs and sanitary controls on freight, make stricter checks of trucks coming in and leaving France, and ban trawlers from landing their catch in French ports if the dispute was not resolved by Tuesday.

“The ball is in Britain’s court,” Macron said at a press conference at the G20 summit in Rome on Sunday, saying that retaliatory measures would apply if London did not accept the “de-escalation” proposed by Paris.

Macron, who met Johnson in Rome at the weekend, is suspected in London of fuelling the dispute for domestic political advantage ahead of presidential elections next year.

When asked about the UK-EU dispute over the Northern Ireland protocol, Truss said: “We don’t want confrontation — we want to reach a constructive agreement that allows our trade to flow freely.”

Talks between the two sides on improving the operation of the protocol continue this week, with the principal negotiators from both sides ratcheting up the rhetoric.

“I am increasingly concerned that the UK government will refuse to engage with this and embark on a path of confrontation,” Maros Sefcovic, European Commission vice-president in charge of the negotiations for the bloc, wrote in the Daily Telegraph.

Officials in Brussels think it is now inevitable that Johnson will activate the Article 16 “override” mechanism in the protocol once the COP26 climate summit is over in Glasgow, pushing both sides further towards a trade war.

Lord David Frost, UK Brexit minister, writing a foreword to a Policy Exchange paper on the protocol, claimed the Johnson administration had signed the deal with the EU from a position of “extreme weakness”.

“The insistence of the EU on treating these arrangements as like any other part of its customs and single market rules, without regard to the huge political, economic and identity sensitivities involved, has destroyed cross-community consent well before the four-year mark,” he wrote. “That is why we must return to the protocol and deliver a more robust, and more balanced, outcome than we could in 2019.”

One British diplomatic official, commenting on the fishing dispute, noted: “UK counteraction seems part of Frost’s efforts to blame others and France for all the problems he is creating. He wants tension, not a deal.”

Published at Mon, 01 Nov 2021 15:39:31 +0000

https://www.ft.com/content/56e3d3fb-2be9-46c5-9779-10cc2d099649

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