(LONDON) Fishing Rights Report: The UK could respond in turn if France goes ahead with threats amid a dispute over post-Brexit fishing rights, the environment secretary has said, warning that “two can play at that game” #AceNewsDesk report

#AceNewsReport – Oct.30: Boris Johnson will have a “brush by” meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in the the G20 summit in Rome this weekend, the prime minister’s spokesman said: He added that France remained a “close and strong ally” to the UK.

#AceDailyNews says according to BBC News Katie Wright Fishing row has escalated after its reported that U.K. A British trawler has been seized by France and another has been fined, amid an escalating row over post-Brexit fishing rights..

France said it could stop UK boats landing in its ports if the row over licences was not resolved by Tuesday: George Eustice said the language used by French officials was “inflammatory” after authorities say the detained Cornelis Gert Jan vessel did not have a licence – a claim denied by the boat’s owner Macduff Shellfish of Scotland. But the European Union said the UK authorities withdrew the licence on 1 March.

He said he was raising the issue with the European Commission, while France’s ambassador has been summoned by the UK.

A British trawler was seized by France and another fined during checks off Le Havre on Thursday.

The captain of the scallop dredger will face a court hearing in August next year, French authorities said on Friday.

BBC political correspondent Nick Eardley said No 10 sources were “amazed and concerned” at the escalating fishing row, describing the developments in recent days as “extraordinary”.

Ministers met on Thursday to discuss the situation and are understood to be considering a “range of options” to retaliate.

France was angered by a decision from the UK and Jersey last month to deny fishing licences to dozens of French boats to access British waters, and argued that this breached the Brexit deal.

The country has warned it would block British boats from landing their catches in some French ports next week and tighten checks on UK boats and trucks if the dispute over fishing licences was not resolved by 2 November.

France has also warned it could cut electricity supplies to Jersey, a British Crown dependency, as it previously threatened in May.

Mr Eustice told the BBC only a “small number of vessels” did not qualify for licences “because they have never accessed Jersey waters before”.

He said the UK had an “ever open door” and the government would wait to see what decision is made by Tuesday, after which the UK “reserve the right to respond in a proportionate way”.

Asked about the claim by France’s Europe minister, Clément Beaune, that the only language Britain understands is “the language of force”, Mr Eustice said: “That is completely inflammatory and is the wrong way to go about things.”

He added: “For now, we’re not going to respond in the way that France has, we’re going to raise this with the commission and we’re going to raise it through diplomatic channels with the French ambassador but we’ll reserve our right to do more things if France continue to press ahead with these threats.”

The environment secretary suggested France was politicising the process of checking vessels. “There obviously is an election coming up in France, it may be that is a factor in this,” he said.

Mr Eustice said the detained trawler had been granted a licence at the beginning of the year and the government was “trying to get to the bottom” of why it had subsequently been taken off the list given to the European Union. 

He said the boat may have made some changes to its engine which meant the licence had to be renewed. 

Andrew Brown, from the boat’s owners Macduff Shellfish, said: “We don’t know where the error of interpretation of the licence lies, that will take some time to fix.

“But I would believe that under normal circumstances a misunderstanding like this could be sorted out with a phone call.”

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss asked Europe minister Wendy Morton to call France’s ambassador to the UK, Catherine Colonna, for talks later on Friday.

A calibrated response

By summoning the French ambassador, the government is expressing its significant concern over the fishing dispute in a very public way. 

This is not something allies do very often and this form of diplomatic dressing down is normally reserved for governments with whom the UK has a less amicable relationship, such as China or Iran. 

But equally, this is also a calibrated response by the Foreign Office – the ambassador is meeting only a junior minister. 

It would have been a greater escalation if Foreign Secretary Liz Truss had chosen to see the ambassador, Catherine Colonna, herself. 

And as diplomatic contretemps go, this is quite measured in comparison to a recent dispute over nuclear submarines when France actually recalled its ambassadors from Australia and the United States.

Read more from James here.

Stéphanie Yon-Courtin, a French MEP and member of the EU Fisheries Committee, accused the UK government and Channel Islands authorities of not respecting the trade agreement they signed with the EU, saying it was “up to the UK government to de-escalate the situation”.

“We don’t want escalation,” she said. “We do want to ease things. I feel really sorry for our fishermen, for the British fishermen as well… because we’ve got a very long history of friendship and I really would like to keep this as it has been.”

Under the Brexit deal, it was agreed that licences would be given to vessels that could show they had fished in each other’s waters for years, although there have been disputes about how much evidence is needed.

The UK maintains the rejected applications that sparked the row did not have enough supporting evidence to show the boats had a history of fishing in Britain’s or Jersey’s waters.

A meeting with officials from France, Jersey, the UK and European Commission on Wednesday led to 162 French boats being given licences to fish in Jersey’s waters from Friday.

The government of Jersey said it was “extremely disappointed” by the latest threats of sanctions by France. French trawlers previously protested outside the port of St Helier on the island.

Cornelis Gert Jan
The Cornelis Gert Jan, which is owned by MacDuff Shellfish of Scotland, was detained when fishing in French waters

UK boat detained by France amid fishing rights row: By Mary O’Connor of BBC News

French maritime minister Annick Girardin said the ships were cautioned during checks off Le Havre overnight.

She said the first did not comply right away and the second was not allowed to fish in French waters so was detained.

No 10 said it was watching events closely and wanted France and EU talks but was ready to respond appropriately.

Earlier, the environment secretary said he was “urgently” investigating the situation in relation to the detained vessel – which has been named as the Cornelis Gert Jan.

Responding to an Urgent Commons Question from the SNP, George Eustice said the boat was on a list provided by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) initially provided to the European Union.

He insisted the European Union did grant a licence to the vessel but it was “unclear” why, according to reports, it was subsequently withdrawn from the list.

Mr Eustice said he was awaiting further details from Marine Scotland and was expecting a response in the “next hour or so”. 

Deidre Brock, the SNP’s environment spokesperson, said it was not good enough that the environment secretary had so little information.

MacDuff Shellfish of Scotland, which owns the Cornelis, said the crew of its vessel were “in good spirits” after it was “ordered into a French port while legally fishing for scallop in French waters”.

The firm’s Andrew Brown said the crew would remain on board the vessel until its release, while the captain had left the boat to be interviewed by the French authorities and had been given legal representation.

He said Macduff’s “fishing activity [was] entirely legal” and it appeared the Cornelis, based at Shoreham, in West Sussex, had been “caught up” in the ongoing UK-France post-Brexit fishing row.Watch: British trawler Cornelis Gert Jan is held in Le Havre.

Mr Brown warned that without “a speedy resolution”, the vessel’s catch could be confiscated by the French authorities, and called on the UK government to “defend the rights of the UK fishing fleet”.

The firm will “vigorously defend” itself any claims, but its “priority concern” was for the welfare of the vessel’s crew.

Ms Girardin had said on Twitter that the trawler was found to be fishing in the Bay of Seine without the proper licences.

The minister said checks on the British vessels were standard during the scallop fishing season. 

But she added they had also been undertaken against “the backdrop of the tightening of controls in the Channel, in the context of discussions on licenses with the United Kingdom and the European Commission”.

A shot across the bows 

In naval parlance, this is called a shot across the bows.

Technically, the French checks on UK trawlers in the Channel overnight do not form part of the raft of retaliatory measures announced in the fishing row. 

But there should be no doubt they are intended as a message about what is to come.

From Tuesday, British and Channel Islands fishing boats will not be allowed to offload their catch at French ports. 

But that is the least of it. Only 5% of UK seafood exports to France arrive in this way. The rest comes by freight.

Potentially far more disruptive will be intensified controls at Calais and other entry points for UK trade by ferry and tunnel. 

The French authorities will be conducting what they call a “grève de zèle” – in other words becoming suddenly punctilious, thorough and on the look out for infractions. 

And it is not just fish imports which will be checked, but everything. 

The aim will be to create long tail-backs which will play on the news channels – reminding UK viewers of the costs of go-it-alone. 

France had warned that it would block British boats from some ports next week – as well as tightening checks on UK boats and trucks – if a post-Brexit dispute over fishing licences was not resolved by 2 November.

On Wednesday evening, it issued its ultimatum, saying it would begin to impose “targeted measures” from next Tuesday, including preventing British fishing boats from disembarking at ports and more checks on UK goods.

France has also warned it could cut electricity supplies to Jersey, a British Crown dependency, as it previously threatened in May.

Mr Eustice said threats of sanctions made by France were “disappointing and disproportionate” and appeared to breach the post-Brexit deal and international law.

He appealed to MPs to “remain calm”, saying that UK would not get into a “retaliatory tit-for-tat” but warned of a possible “appropriate and calibrated response” if France carried out its threats.George Eustice says France’s response has been “disappointing and disproportionate”

Mr Eustice rejected French claims that the process for applying for fishing licences had been slow and difficult, saying officials had granted 98% of post-Brexit licence applications from European boats to fish in UK waters.

He said more were expected to be granted following “constructive” talks with the European Commission and that he had told the French and the Commission that the UK’s “door remains ever open”.

French politician and member of President Macron’s En Marche party, Bruno Boller, told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme that French fishermen are “losing 25% of their business because of regulation”.

He said “in the Brexit treaty we were not supposed to reach this point of tension” and disagreed with the licencing figures quoted by Mr Eustice, saying 200 licences had been granted.

Mr Boller argued French authorities “have ways to retaliate if you push too hard” and he “would not be surprised if by next week we see significant advances” in discussions.

The UK maintains the rejected applications which sparked the row did not have enough supporting evidence to show they had a history of fishing in Britain’s or Jersey’s waters.

A meeting with officials from France, Jersey, the UK and European Commission, on Wednesday led to 162 French boats being given licences to fish in Jersey’s waters from Friday.

The government of Jersey said it was “extremely disappointed” by the latest threats of sanctions by France. French trawlers previously protested outside the port of St Helier on the island.

Labour’s shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard said the tensions were a result of the government losing control of negotiations and there was real concern “the botched Brexit deal” was going to lead to more clashes.

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