The French ambassador was summoned to London and two Royal Navy patrol boats were put in a state of “high readiness” to tackle possible port blockades by French fishing boats as the dispute over access to British waters after Brexit increased. .
The dramatic moves followed French threats to obstruct British exports in the bureaucracy over the lack of fishing licenses for its fishing boats and incendiary claims that Downing Street had made a “political decision” to harm the country’s coastal communities. .
With tensions high, UK government advocacy sources said they were waiting for a distress call from Jersey, a British crown dependency, as the dispute over post-Brexit fishing rights appeared in danger of erupting.
A UK government spokesperson said: “We regret the confrontational language that has been consistently used by the French government on this issue, which makes this situation no easier to resolve.
“We have raised our concerns vigorously to both France and the EU Commission. As the next step, the Secretary of Foreign Relations has given instructions [Europe] Minister Wendy Morton to summon the French ambassador. “
A dispute over the issuance of permits to French vessels operating in the coastal waters of the UK and Jersey has escalated ahead of the weekend expiration date on current licenses. Paris said it would ban British fishing boats in key ports from next Tuesday, promised to impose onerous controls on trade through the Canal and threatened the UK’s power supply unless more permits were issued.
Clément Beaune, France’s EU Affairs Minister, further increased the pressure on Thursday, saying Downing Street was failing to maintain French fishermen’s access to its coastal waters for political expediency.
There is also an acknowledgment in London, and in the Channel Island capital, St Helier, of the danger that angry French fishermen whose permits will expire this weekend may try to obtain concessions by using their boats to close key ports.
Defense sources said there were no immediate signs of a request for help from Jersey, although it was recognized that the situation could change. “The intention is to calm the situation, although the boats remain ready if the situation suddenly worsens,” added the source.
Issue 10 said that the British ambassador in Paris had been in contact with Beaune, and the UK Environment Secretary, George Eustice, was in contact with his French counterpart. “We are still working to understand the details,” the prime minister’s spokesman said.
They added that the “disappointing and disproportionate threats” were not “what we would expect from a close ally.” The French sanctions “would be met with an adequate and calibrated response,” said No. 10.
Olivier Lepretre, head of the fisheries council of the Hauts-de-France region, said: “I think it is always better to negotiate because we all know that if we go to war, the fishermen of both countries will lose. I am convinced of it. “
In the early hours of Thursday morning, the French maritime police detained British trawler Cornelis Gert Jan off the Normandy coast for allegedly fishing without a permit. A second ship received a warning.
The French government said the checks had been routine, but admitted that they had been carried out “in the context of the licensing discussion with the UK and the European Commission.”
Earlier this week, the commission said the UK government had approved 15 of 47 requests for French ships to operate in UK coastal waters. A further 15 applications were being examined where evidence of activity in those waters was limited, but the French applicants had withdrawn 17 applications due to “poor evidence”.
However, what worries the French authorities the most is the high number of boats requesting to fish in Jersey waters that have been rejected by the island’s government.
In a joint statement, Jersey Foreign and Environment Ministers Ian Gorst and John Young said they would issue two additional permanent and 15 temporary permits, reducing the number rejected from 75 to 55.
“We are extremely disappointed with the announcement by the French government, made yesterday afternoon, that a retaliatory approach is proposed,” they said.
It also emerged on Thursday that a key government committee has been examining the consequences of the UK activating Article 16, suspending parts of a protocol in the withdrawal agreement establishing post-Brexit trade deals for Northern Ireland.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism