Scots fishing operators yesterday called for a de-escalation of the row between the UK and France over post-Brexit fishing rights.
The UK government has said it is “actively considering” legal action after France threatened to block ports in a tit-for-tat escalation of the row over fishing rights. Boris Johnson said yesterday he believes France could be in breach of a Brexit treaty and that he will “do whatever is necessary to protect British interests”.
Meanwhile, France is threatening to block British boats from its ports and tighten checks on vessels if an issue over licences for small French vessels to fish in British waters is not resolved by Tuesday.
France threatened to block ports to British vessels after dozens of French boats were denied post-Brexit fishing licences for UK waters. Yesterday, Emmanuel Macron told the Financial Times that Britain’s international reputation as a nation to be trusted was on the line. The French president said: “When you spend years negotiating a treaty then a few months later you do the opposite of what was decided on the aspects that suit you least, it is not a big sign of your credibility.”
Johnson and French president Emmanuel Macron are expected to discuss the row at an informal meeting on the margins of the G20 summit in Rome today. But asked if he felt the French behaviour was unacceptable, Johnson told the BBC the priority for the UK and France was making progress on tackling climate change in talks at the G20 summit and at Cop26.
Mike Park, chief executive of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association, called for both nations to sit down together to resolve the issue. He said: “Sensible people have to get round the table and work out the differences. We need to de-escalate this. Escalation is in no-one’s interests.
“As a coastal state in our own right, we can’t capitulate just because another country wants something. But if there is a weakness in our position in terms of not supplying enough licences, we have to look at that. If there is an exaggeration in terms of licences that have been applied for by French fishermen, then we need to look at that as well. I suspect there is a position in the middle that can be achieved that satisfies both sides.”
He added: “It is playing politics with people’s lives. Fishermen are hard-working people who have seen their income decline over the past 18 months. It is a dangerous job.”
In the escalating dispute, French prime minister Jean Castex wrote to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to encourage Brussels to back his country.
The wrangle over fishing access has escalated since French authorities accused a Scottish-registered scallop dredger of fishing without a licence.
The captain of the Cornelis Gert Jan vessel was detained in Le Havre and has been told to face a court hearing in August next year.
Jimmy Buchan, chief executive of the Scottish Seafood Association, said: “We are coming up to Christmas, a key time of the year for the fishing industry, and what we don’t want to see is any restrictions at border posts.
“It is disappointing that the French are taking this approach. But we don’t want to see this escalating.”
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