France and the United Kingdom have risen several tones this week in the long pulse they maintain after the achievement of the Brexit. On the eve of the G-20 summit in Rome, in which the leaders of both countries will agree – French sources consider a Roman bilateral meeting between Emmanuel Macron and Boris Johnson “probable” but not certain -, Paris has threatened London with ” retaliation ”if the British Government does not issue the licenses for the French fishermen that it has been claiming for nine months at once. Given the immobility of London, the French authorities confirmed this Thursday that they have held a British boat that had been fishing in its waters without a license since the day before.
The British Government has announced a “calibrated response” if the French follow through on their threats. But he did not want to wait to express his anger: according to the Foreign Minister, Liz Truss, on Thursday afternoon, he summoned this Friday the Gala ambassador in London, Catherine Colonna, to “explain the disappointing and disproportionate threats against the United Kingdom and the Channel Islands ”. In any case, the maritime dispute is only one of the fronts that the two countries are fighting, also very confronted by the migration issue. And all this when France has not yet completely lost the anger over the trilateral agreement that London reached with Washington and Canberra to take away the submarine agreement it had with Australia. The possibility of a Roman pax Franco-British seems, for now, complicated.
The normally cold Atlantic waters were boiling this Thursday. Early in the morning, the French government confirmed that a British boat caught while fishing in Gallic waters without a license was being held in the port of Le Havre, according to Paris. Another fishing vessel was able to continue its activity, but not without first receiving a fine for “obstructing” the control carried out by a Gallic patrol, by initially refusing to allow the gendarmes to approach it to check the documentation, which was finally in order.
A gesture that followed what London has described as a “disproportionate” and “disappointing” announcement: the threat of French “retaliation”, starting next week, if London does not grant once and for all the licenses that Paris demands for that its fishermen can fish in British waters.
According to Paris, starting next Tuesday a series of measures can already be applied: prohibiting the landing of British fishery products in all French ports, reinforcing customs and health controls, as well as carrying out “systematic” security checks on ships. British, along with a “reinforcement” of the controls of trucks heading or coming from the United Kingdom, especially in the port of Calais. Measures that could affect the already affected British supply, with serious problems since the entry into force of the Brexit.
A second round of retaliation could go even further: in fact, France “does not exclude reviewing the energy supply” of the Anglo-Norman islands, the government warned in a statement.
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The Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune, on Thursday justified the harsh tone chosen by France. “Now we must speak the language of force because I fear that, unfortunately, this British Government does not understand anything else,” he lamented on CNews. “I am not happy and he is not very intelligent, but when faced with a partner who understands nothing more than the language of force, you have to speak” that language.
The British response did not beat around the bush either. “The measures with which it threatens [Francia] do not appear to be compatible with the Trade and Cooperation Agreement [del pos-Brexit] or with the broader international law and, if implemented, they will come up with an appropriate and calibrated response, ”said British Environment Minister George Eustice, according to Reuters. Shortly after, the convocation of the Gallic diplomatic representative in London was known.
In the post-Brexit deal closed between London and Brussels at the end of 2020, European fishermen are expected to continue fishing in some British waters as long as they can demonstrate that they were already doing so there before Britain’s departure from the European Union. The problem is that Paris and London deny each other about the number of licenses that must be issued.
French Maritime Affairs Minister Annick Girardin also denied British claims on Thursday that London has already issued 98% of the requested European licenses. “It’s false; the Europeans have applied for 2,217 licenses and the British have issued 1,913. It is 90%. And all those who do not yet have a license are French, apart from one or two Belgians, “said the minister, for whom Paris is waging” a fight “that it is not willing to lose.
“It is not war, but it is combat. French fishermen have rights. There is a signed agreement and we must implement that agreement. We have fishing rights, we have to defend them and we will defend them, “Girardin said on RTL radio station, where he announced that the Prime Minister, Jean Castex, is preparing to ask Brussels to recognize that the United Kingdom” does not respect the agreements and that, for Therefore, retaliatory measures can be implemented by the European Commission ”. However, Castex himself was quick to say shortly after that it is “open for discussions morning, noon and night”, as long as the British “respect their commitments”. Because, as said, for his part, Secretary of State Beaune, “no other issue of European cooperation with the United Kingdom can progress without re-establishing trust and fully implementing the signed agreements.”
Messages that can be interpreted in a broader way than in the fisheries field. Because licenses to fish are not the only dispute that has maintained tension across the English Channel for months. The migration issue, aggravated by the record numbers of maritime crossings by irregular immigrants registered in recent months, has also heated up spirits on both shores.
According to the British agency PA, so far this year more than 18,000 migrants have arrived aboard precarious boats departing from the nearby Norman coasts. The figure is more than double that in all of 2020. In recent weeks, Paris has accused London of not having paid the additional 62.7 million euros to which it pledged in July to “support France in its equipment and fight against irregular immigration ”. Under a 2004 bilateral agreement, the British border is fixed on the French coast and, in return, London contributes financially to French border surveillance. Recently, the British Government assured that the money “is going to arrive”, but regretted what it considers a lack of zeal on the part of France to prevent the maritime migratory flow, a route that is increasingly used due to the difficulties in boarding the trucks that each day they traverse the Eurotunnel through Calais, due to heightened security. Paris has rejected London’s insinuations that agents patrolling the canal can reject vessels entering British waters. “France will not accept any practice contrary to Maritime Law, or any financial blackmail,” warned Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, who has also called for a post-Brexit “migration treaty” in recent weeks.
The moment chosen for the new Franco-British escalation is not accidental. Beyond the Jersey authorities [dependientes de Londres] have set the deadline for fishing without the new licenses on October 30, Macron leaves this afternoon for Rome, where he will take advantage of the G-20 summit to hold several bilateral meetings. One of the most important will take place today: as confirmed by the Elysee, the French president will meet bilaterally with his American counterpart, Joe Biden, in what is considered the culmination of efforts to close the strong crisis unleashed by the Australian submarine crisis, which also sparked strong tensions with London that have yet to subside completely. If they fail to make an appointment of their own over the weekend, Macron and Johnson have yet another chance before possible reprisals take effect: the French president will attend the opening of COP26 in Glasgow on Monday.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.