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France fishing dispute: Foreign Secretary Liz Truss sets 48-hour deadline for Brexit row to be resolved

Written by on 1 November 2021

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has set a 48-hour deadline for a fishing dispute with France to be resolved before the UK moves ahead with legal action.

Speaking to Sky News at the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow, Ms Truss hit out at the French for behaving “unfairly” and accused them of operating outside the terms of the Brexit trade deal.

Last week, French authorities detained a British scallop trawler in the port of Le Havre as fresh tensions over post-Brexit fishing rights broke out.

French President Emmanuel Macron has set his own deadline of Tuesday for more licences to be granted to French vessels to fish in UK waters before the triggering of trade reprisals.

France has warned it could ban British vessels from French ports, while the dispute has also revived a French threat to raise the price of electricity supplied to Jersey, in the Channel Islands, via underseas cables.

Jersey’s government, which is responsible for managing licences for French vessels to fish in the island’s waters, on Monday accused France of seeking to “bully” with the “completely unprecedented” threat to the island’s energy supply.

And the Crown Dependency called for an end to the “silliness” of “political rhetoric” and to “deal with the technical issues”.

On the first day of the COP26 summit, which is being attended by Mr Macron, Ms Truss said France had made “completely unreasonable threats, including to the Channel Islands and our fishing industry”.

A British trawler Cornelis Gert Jan is seen moored in the port of Le Havre, after France seized on Thursday a British trawler fishing in its territorial waters without a licence, in Le Havre, France, October 29, 2021. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier  Image: British trawler Cornelis Gert Jan was detained by France in the port of Le Havre

“They need to withdraw those threats. Or else we will use the mechanisms of our trade agreement with the EU to take action,” she told Sky News.

“What that means is that we will use the dispute resolution mechanism, which could lead to taking direct action in trade.

“The French have behaved unfairly, it’s not within the terms of the trade deal. And if somebody behaves unfairly in a trade deal, you are entitled to take action against them and seek some compensatory measures.

“That is what we will do if the French don’t back down.”

Ms Truss said the issue “needs to be resolved within the next 48 hours” before the UK moves ahead with legal action.

Ian Gorst, Jersey’s minister for external relations, said it was “extremely frustrating” to hear of the French threat of retaliatory measures.

“It’s not about political rhetoric, it’s not about threats , it’s not about anecdote – let’s move away from all of that silliness and deal with the technical issue of providing the evidence so that licences can be issued,” he told Sky News.

Mr Gorst also hit out at the French threat to his island’s energy supplies, adding: “I’m pleased to say that the original rhetoric of cutting off our electricity has, of course been moved away from.

“Now the French are talking about reducing supply and putting on tariffs. Let’s be clear, that’s a private contract.

“If the French were to take that action, it would be completely unprecedented for a G7 nation to interfere in a private contract for what can only be perceived as purely political ends.

“They are a large nation, we are a small island. Let’s deal with what was agreed in the trade deal rather than seeking to bully and threaten.”

The fishing dispute follows on from French unhappiness with the AUKUS security pact announced between Australia, the UK and US in September.

And Ms Truss suggested next April’s French presidential election could be a motive behind Mr Macron’s tough stance.

“You might say there is a French election coming up. You might say there are various other issues of concern,” Ms Truss said.

“But what I would say to the French is that we are fellow freedom-loving democracies – we should not be fighting with each other, we should be focussing our efforts on working together.

“This is not a zero-sum game, we can both benefit by trading more with each other, by working together on issues like security and defence.

“We need to move beyond these unreasonable threats and instead work together.”

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PM ‘worried’ that treaty may have been broken on fishing

As part of the fishing row, France has claimed its own retaliatory measures could also include the imposition of physical checks on lorries travelling to and from the UK.

This has led to fears of long queues on either side of the Channel, which could snarl up shipments ahead of Christmas.

And Ms Truss did not deny the UK was looking at other European ports as a trade route.

She said: “In general it’s important for the UK to diversify our trade and not become dependent on a single source of imports, or indeed, a single destination for our exports.

“So I fully support diversifying our trade and making sure we’ve got options, because that puts us in a stronger position.”

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COP26 is set to become the second major international summit hosted by the UK this year to be marred by a Brexit row with France.

It comes after this summer’s G7 summit in Cornwall was dominated by the “sausage wars” with the EU related to post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland.

But Ms Truss warned the current fishing dispute “cannot be allowed to overshadow what is the most important conference in a generation”.

“Everybody knows how important it is getting the climate change agreement we need,” she added.

“How important it is for the most vulnerable countries in the world being protected against climate change, how important it is for all of us and our futures.”

Labour’s shadow business secretary Ed Miliband also expressed his fears that French threats were being made “for domestic political reasons”.

“I don’t like the way French have behaved in this at all – I actually agree with Liz Truss on this,” he told Sky News at the COP26 summit.

“The whole business with the trawler, the threats is not what we need at any time and it’s certainly not what we need now.

“This is the biggest global summit there’s ever been on the climate crisis – that’s where our focus should be.

“Let’s lower the temperature on both sides, but threats aren’t going to get us anywhere.”

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