No breakthrough in UK-France talks on fishing dispute

Downing Street said it is confident France will not resume threats to block British boats from French ports.

No breakthrough in UK-France talks on fishing dispute Getty Images

No breakthroughs have been announced following a meeting between Brexit minister Lord Frost and France’s Europe minister in a bid to calm the post-Brexit dispute over fishing.

But Downing Street said it is confident France will not resume its threats to increase checks or block British boats from French ports in the “coming days” following the talks with Clement Beaune in Paris on Thursday.

The diplomatic storm was triggered by France threatening sanctions over what it perceives as a refusal to issue licences to its trawlers to operate in UK waters.

Following the latest meeting, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the French government had assured it will not immediately restore the threats as talks continue.

“They’ve made it clear to us they’re not planning to introduce them in the short-term. Both sides are keen to have further discussions,” he said.

Lord Frost will meet European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic in Brussels on Friday and he will speak to Beaune again next week.

Beaune said he had been happy to meet Lord Frost to “relaunch the necessary dialogue and ensure the implementation of our agreements”.

The UK Government has insisted the overwhelming majority of applications for licences have been granted.

French President Emmanuel Macron delayed the imposition of punitive measures while talks between the UK, France and the European Commission take place.

Paris has insisted the measures – which could include a ban on British trawlers landing their catches in French ports and tighter customs checks to hamper cross-Channel trade – remain “on the table” if a deal cannot be reached.

French Government spokesman Gabriel Attal has underlined the threat of sanctions remains: “As you know, the control measures that we announced are still suspended but all options are on the table, and we may need to implement those measures if we do not reach an agreement.”

Under the Brexit deal, EU boats which can show they have fished in British waters in at least four of the years from 2012 to 2016 are eligible for a licence.

Some 1831 applications for licences have been received, with 1793 issued.

The main source of contention has been for smaller vessels, the under 12-metre category fishing between six and 12 nautical miles of the coast, where 50 applications have been received – all from French vessels – but just 19 have been issued.

Meanwhile, a British trawler which was impounded by France amid the dispute over post-Brexit fishing rights has arrived in the UK after being released by French authorities.

The Scottish-registered scallop dredger Cornelis Gert Jan left Le Havre on Wednesday evening after being held there since last week, when France accused it of fishing in its waters without a proper licence.

The fishing row was just one of the issues Lord Frost was raising during his talks in Paris and Brussels.

The main dispute between the UK and European Union is over the Northern Ireland Protocol governing post-Brexit trading arrangements.

To avoid a hard border with Ireland, the deal effectively keeps Northern Ireland inside the EU’s single market for goods, resulting in some checks for products crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain, which left the single market.

Lord Frost has claimed the conditions for using Article 16 – allowing parts of the deal to be suspended – have been met because of the difficulties being caused.

The UK wants an end to the European Court of Justice’s oversight role, something that Brussels has said is impossible.

European Commission executive vice-president Frans Timmermans told ITV’s Peston: “I think Mr Frost knows very well that this is not possible for the European Union.

“I know he knows full well that whenever the internal market is involved, the ultimate arbitrator is the European Court of Justice.”

But he said the European Commission has been “bending over backwards” to reach an agreement with the UK on the protocol.

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