Johnson Says French Threats 'Unjustified' as Macron Calls Fishing Row a 'Test' of UK's Credibility
France has threatened the UK with a series of sanctions unless progress is made in the post-Brexit fishing rights dispute.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen that French threats over post-Brexit fishing licences are "completely unjustified."
"The prime minister also raised his concerns about the rhetoric from the French government in recent days over the issue of fishing licences. The prime minister stressed that the French threats are completely unjustified and do not appear to be compatible with the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement or wider international law," the PM's office said in a statement in the wake of a bilateral meeting in Rome at the G20 summit.
Johnson earlier did not rule out invoking a dispute settlement process allowed under the Brexit deal terms.
For her part, von der Leyen tweeted that the European Commission was "intensively engaging for finding solutions" on both the fishing row and the Northern Ireland issue.
Shortly thereafter, British Brexit Secretary David Frost took to Twitter to slam comments made by French Prime Minister Jean Castex in a letter to the European Union suggesting the 27-member bloc should demonstrate there is "more damage to leaving the EU than to remaining" as "very troubling."
In a series of tweets, Frost wrote: "I would like to set out where things stand between the UK and the EU on fisheries and related issues, and why recent French rhetoric and threats, potentially leading to a breach by the EU of its Treaty obligations, are such an important matter for us. We have been in talks with the EU Commission for weeks on fisheries licensing & have granted 98 percent of applications. We do so in good faith & are fully delivering on our TCA obligation – to license vessels which can prove they have actually fished previously in our 6-12nm limit."
"This is all the more so as the threats made by France this week to our fishing industry, to energy supplies, and to future cooperation, eg through the Horizon research programme, unfortunately form part of a pattern that has persisted for much of this year. As I set out yesterday to Maros Sefcovic, these threats, if implemented on 2 November, would put the EU in breach of its obligations under our trade agreement. So we are actively considering launching dispute settlement proceedings as set out in Article 738 of the TCA," Frost continued.
His comments followed an interview by French President Emmanuel Macron to the Financial Times, in which he said that the ongoing dispute over fishing rights was a "test" of the UK's credibility.
"Make no mistake, it is not just for the Europeans but all of their partners. Because when you spend years negotiating a treaty and then a few months later you do the opposite of what was decided on the aspects that suit you the least, it is not a big sign of your credibility," he lamented.
The French president then claimed he himself had “never created pointless controversy” during multiple post-Brexit rows with the British government. He insisted that there was "no tension" over fisheries but stressed the issue was important to both sides.
Despite the ongoing bickering and blame-shifting, both Johnson and Macron emphasised their close personal ties, and came face-to-face during the G20 summit in Rome on Saturday. The two are said to have shared a "mock combative fist-bump" as they arrived for the leaders' "family photo" at the start of the summit.
Macron and Johnson are scheduled to hold a meeting on Sunday on the sidelines of G20 – both are expected to defend the interests of their respective countries.
France has threatened the UK with sanctions, saying it will ban British fishing boats from unloading in French ports, carry out additional licence checks on UK vessels, tighten controls of trucks, and reimpose customs and hygiene controls, and hinted at the possibility of hitting Britain's power supplies if no progress is made in the fishing conundrum.
Tensions further escalated after France seized a British trawler on Thursday, allegedly for operating without a license, after London refused to issue more licences for French fishing boats. In response, UK Environment Secretary George Eustice accused France of "inflammatory language" and did not rule out blocking French vessels from landing their catches in the UK in retaliation.