Jersey issues 49 more fishing licences to French boats amid row

Officials from France and UK to meet in Brussels after threats from both sides in post-Brexit dispute

Jersey has issued another 49 licences to French boats in an apparent attempt to de-escalate a post-Brexit row over fishing rights in which the UK and France have issued tit-for-tat threats.

The Jersey government said it was allowing another round of temporary licences until the end of January to allow time for new arrangements to be put in place, as the two sides prepared to meet to try to resolve the row.

The European Commission has said officials from France, Britain, Jersey, Guernsey and the commission will meet on Monday afternoon in Brussels. A spokesperson said the meeting, which was called by the commission, aimed for “a swift solution on the outstanding issues”.

Earlier the UK foreign secretary, Liz Truss, warned France it had 48 hours to back down on threats made in the row over fishing licences or Britain would begin dispute talks set out in the Brexit deal.

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has previously issued the UK with a deadline of Tuesday to make a move to allow more French boats access to fishing waters.

In a post-G20 press conference, Macron said Britain must give ground or France would trigger threatened trade reprisals this week. “The ball is in Britain’s court. If the British make no movement, the measures of 2 November will have to be put in place,” he said.

French officials have said they will bar UK fishing boats from some ports and tighten customs checks on lorries entering the country unless more licences are granted for their small boats to fish in Britain’s waters.

The diplomatic row over fishing, a very small sector of the economy, threatened to overshadow the G20 talks in Rome at the weekend and Cop26 in Glasgow this week.

Jersey said the move would take the number of licences issued to French vessels to 162. Its government said it remained open to receiving further data for vessels that had no licence, and new applications could be submitted at any time.

It is still unclear whether the extra licences will have any effect on the row. Speaking to AFP on Monday, Macron reiterated that reprisals “will take effect at midnight tonight” if the two sides failed to achieve a breakthrough.

Almost 1,700 EU vessels have been licensed to fish in UK waters, equating to 98% of EU applications for fishing licences, the UK government says, but this figure is disputed in Paris.

Truss suggested on Monday that Macron may be making “unreasonable threats” because he has a difficult election looming.

Asked about whether France and the UK had come to an agreement, Truss told Sky News: “The deal hasn’t been done. The French have made completely unreasonable threats, including to the Channel Islands and to our fishing industry and they need to withdraw those threats.”

She said that if the French did not withdraw the threats, the UK government would use “the mechanisms of our trade agreement with the EU to take action”, which “could lead to taking direct action in trade”.

Truss said: “The French have behaved unfairly. It’s not within the terms of the trade deal. And if someone behaves unfairly in a trade deal you’re entitled to take action against them and seek some compensatory measures and that is what we will do if the French don’t back down.

“[The French must] stop threatening UK fishing vessels, stop threatening the Channel ports, and accept that we are entirely within our rights to allocate the fishing licences in line with the trade agreement, as we have done.”

She said she would “absolutely” take legal action in the coming days if France did not back down, adding: “This issue needs to be resolved in the next 48 hours.”

Asked why the row had emerged, Truss said: “You might say there’s a French election coming up.” Truss seemed angered by the dispute and said: “I’m not remotely happy about what has happened.”

Pierre-Henri Dumont, a French politician for Les Républicains party, said France simply wanted the UK to “fulfil its commitments that were made during the post-Brexit treaty”. He said he thought “harder negotiations” may need to be opened up with the British side.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “What we are asking is just for the British government to fulfil and keep its promises that were made by signing this post-Brexit agreement. We’re not asking any more. We’re not asking for something that was not into this treaty. We’re just asking for the British government to fulfil and to keep its signature. That’s it.”


Jamie Grierson and Rowena Mason

The GuardianTramp

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