France readies stricter Channel customs checks in post-Brexit fishing row

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France readies stricter Channel customs checks in post-Brexit fishing row
© PA A fishing boat in the harbour at St Helier, on the Channel Island of Jersey. French ministers have threatened to cut off energy supplies to the island.

France has threatened to impose tougher customs checks on goods crossing the Channel and ban British seafood despite a lack of support for EU-wide sanctions.

Further retaliatory measures involving the supply of electricity to the Channel Islands could ultimately also be imposed, the French government said.

“It’s a first series of measures,” said the French EU affairs minister, Clément Beaune. “Either this first series of measures leads to a dialogue about the licences, then that’s good. Or these measures do not lead to the deal being implemented and we will take other measures, including on the supply of electricity, for example.”

France has been consistently pushing the EU to take a stronger stance against the UK over its concerns that Boris Johnson’s government is acting in breach of its obligations over post-Brexit fishing access to Channel waters.

In response, a UK government spokesperson said: “France’s threats are disappointing and disproportionate, and not what we would expect from a close ally and partner.

“The measures being threatened do not appear to be compatible with the trade and cooperation agreement (TCA) and wider international law, and, if carried through, will be met with an appropriate and calibrated response. We will be relaying our concerns to the EU Commission and French government.”

Earliest this week, the European Commission said the UK government had approved 15 out of 47 applications for French boats to operate in the so-called 6-12 mile zone from the British coast.

A further 15 applications are being considered where evidence of activity in those waters is limited, but 17 applications have been withdrawn by French applicants because of “poor evidence”.

Of greater concern to the French authorities, a third of boats applying to fish in the waters of Jersey, a British crown dependency, have also been turned down by the island’s government.

French ministers have in response threatened to cut off energy supplies to the island. Jersey has awarded 95 licences to French fishers and is giving a further 75 fishers until mid-November to supply sufficient evidence they were genuine and had fished for 10 days during the past three years.

A French government spokesperson said that their initial retaliatory measures, possibly to be tabled on Friday, could include “systematic customs and sanitary checks on products brought to France and a ban on landing seafood”.

However, there is currently a lack of support within the EU for using the levers within the trade and cooperation agreement with the UK over the issue of fishing access.

EU sources said it was yet to be seen whether the applications from French fishers were valid and whether unilateral action from Paris was legal. “If it’s not an EU action, can the French actually do anything?” one source in Brussels said. “They’re in a state of ignorance. [The French president] Emmanuel Macron’s position is beleaguered.”

Under the post-Brexit deal on fishing, EU fishers seeking to access British seas had to apply for new licences that would be granted providing they could prove that they had worked in British waters in previous years.

In total, the UK has granted almost 1,700 licences to EU boats to fish in waters classed as being part of its exclusive economic zone, which stretches between 12 and 200 nautical miles from the coast, equating to 98% of applicants.

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