The U.K. government hit back at France over its proposed retaliatory measures in a dispute over fishing access, as post-Brexit tensions between the two countries escalate.
“France’s threats are disappointing and disproportionate,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office said in a statement Wednesday, after a French government spokesman said they may disrupt the flow of trade with Britain and energy supplies to the Channel Islands due to the lack of fishing licenses granted to French vessels since Brexit.
“The measures being threatened do not appear to be compatible with the trade and cooperation agreement and wider international law,” Downing Street said, referring to the post-Brexit trade deal signed on Christmas Eve last year. The measures “will be met with an appropriate and calibrated response.”
Adding to the tension, French authorities on Wednesday seized a British vessel fishing off Le Havre without a license, according to a tweet from Maritime Affairs Minister Annick Girardin.
Access by EU vessels to British waters has long been a sore point in the post-Brexit relationship between the U.K. and its largest trading partner, leading to a major escalation earlier this year when both Britain and France deployed navy warships in the English Channel. France’s complaint is that some of its ships are being unfairly denied access to the fishing grounds in which they have historically operated, while Britain says it is merely enforcing the terms of its post-Brexit agreement.
France has set the UK a deadline of November 2 to give the vessels more licenses, after which it says it will enforce its retaliatory measures. These include the systematic application of customs and health checks on goods unloaded at French ports, which is likely to lead to large traffic queues around the critical port of Dover.
Both Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron will be in Rome this weekend for the G-20 summit, where they could meet on Sunday, two days before the deadline.
“Our patience is reaching its limit,” French government spokesman Gabriel Attal told reporters in Paris on Wednesday. “Our wish is simply that the agreement we have reached can be respected.”
Also on Wednesday, a French patrol boat found a British fishing vessel operating without a license, according to a statement tweeted by Girardin, the maritime affairs minister. The vessel was ordered to enter the port of Le Havre. According to the statement, the catches may be confiscated and the vessel detained until a guarantee is paid. The operation is part of the tightening of control measures undertaken by the French because of the fishing license dispute, according to the ministry.
One problem in the fishing dispute is that the UK is asking vessels to provide proof that they have fished in British waters historically, something that older French vessels with less sophisticated technology have had difficulty doing. Another problem is that of fishermen who have operated in waters historically, but have recently acquired new vessels that will not have fished in those areas.
The UK government says it has granted 98% of license applications from EU vessels since Brexit, while France says the UK is introducing testing requirements for applications that were not present in the Brexit trade deal.(Updates with France seizing UK fishing boat).