Britain escalates post-Brexit dispute with France over fisheries

French fishermen repair their nets in Boulogne-sur-Mer, northern France, 28 December 2020. Photo taken 28 December 2020. REUTERS / Charles Platiau / File Photo

  • British, French leaders suggest they want to ease tensions
  • Britain’s Frost launches a blistering attack
  • The row further strains neighbors’ post-Brexit ties

ROME, October 30 (Reuters) – Britain escalated a war of words with France on Saturday, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson refusing to rule out next week’s trade disputes in a row of fishermen and his Brexit minister sharply criticizing Paris’ actions.

Johnson, who is hosting next week’s climate summit, said again that he did not want the saliva over fish to derail the weekend’s meeting between the world’s 20 largest economies, seen as a springboard to secure more commitments to COP26 in Glasgow.

But an ointment of angry statements from Brexit minister David Frost underscored how seriously London took a letter sent by Paris urging the EU to demonstrate the damage by leaving the bloc. He described it as “very worrying”.

After a previous British-hosted G7 meeting was overshadowed by a disagreement with the EU over post-Brexit issues of moving sausages and other goods to Northern Ireland, Johnson also took a step to neutralize the series.

“If there is a breach of the Treaty, or we believe there is a breach of the Treaty, then we will do what is necessary to protect British interests,” Johnson told Sky News at the Colosseum in Rome, where he participates in a G20 meeting.

Asked if he would rule out triggering dispute settlement measures in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) next week, Johnson said: “No, of course not, I do not rule that out.”

“But what I think everyone wants is to see (is) cooperation between the European Allies and Emmanuel Macron, and I share a common perspective, which is that climate change is a disaster for humanity.”

Relations with France have become increasingly strained since Britain voted to leave the EU in 2016, when London’s security pact with the US and Australia has done little to build confidence in Paris. French President Macron has questioned Britain’s “credibility”. Read more

Fisheries, which pursued the Brexit negotiations for years, even though they were not economically crucial for either country, have enormous political significance for both, and the dispute, if left unresolved, could trigger the beginning of disputes in the Brexit trade agreement.

Such measures are likely to involve the convening of an arbitration panel and may result in a claim for compensation or suspension of obligations.


The letter that French Prime Minister Jean Castex sent to the EU, in which he called on the bloc to demonstrate that there was “more harm in leaving the EU than staying there” has also soured ties.

Frost said he hoped “this opinion is no longer widespread throughout the EU”, calling its expression in a letter “clearly very worrying and very problematic”. Read more

Johnson also expressed his concerns “about the rhetoric of the French government” at a meeting with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. She said Brussels was “intensively committed to finding solutions”.

In Rome, Johnson and Macron exchanged a scornful fistfight, but did not appear to be talking to each other as leaders took a “family photo.” They are to be seen for a brief meeting on Sunday.

“We have sought to work with the French government to issue more fishing permits, we are ready to continue that work,” Johnson’s spokesman said.

With an election in April in which Macron is expected to seek a new term, some British officials say he seeks to look tough to appeal to voters. Some European diplomats see that Johnson’s government is also taking a firm stand to please Brexit supporters.

The issue escalated this week when a British mussel digger was escorted to a French port after French officials said it did not have the correct documentation. Paris has said it could start imposing targeted measures from Tuesday, including tightening some controls if the dispute is not resolved.

But a French diplomatic source told Reuters that Macron shared Johnson’s goal of easing tensions.

“The president is in favor of reassuring things, but at the same time he can not pretend that the British are not relinquishing the commitments they have made,” the source said.

Reporting by Elizabeth Piper, Michel Rose in Rome and Michael Holden in London; Editing Helen Popper and David Holmes

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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