Why has France detained a British fishing ship and threatened sanctions?

Asia's Tech News Daily

France has accused the UK of not granting enough fishing licences.

The government is facing calls to defend British fishermen after a UK boat was detained by French authorities as a row about post-Brexit fishing rights escalated between the two countries.

The scallop vessel Cornelis was ordered to divert to the port of Le Havre after the French authorities said it was fishing in their waters without a licence.

The French said that another British trawler had been fined for obstruction after refusing to allow police to board to carry out checks.

The incidents came amid anger in France after the UK and the Channel Island of Jersey turned down applications from dozens of French boats to fish in their waters in what Paris said was a breach of Britain’s post-Brexit trade deal with the EU.

The owner of the Cornelis, Macduff Shellfish, said the vessel had been fishing legally in French waters and called on the UK government to protect the rights of British fishermen.

Watch: Brexit fishing row explained: Why are the UK and France fighting?

Read more: Revealed: The EU countries that trust Britain the least after Brexit

Andrew Brown, from Macduff Shellfish, said the vessel had been caught in the row between the two nations and feared the catch onboard the Cornelis could be seized.

He said: “We are looking to the UK government to defend the rights of the UK fishing fleet and ensure that the fishing rights provided under the Brexit fishing agreement are fully respected by the EU.”

What is the Brexit Fisheries Agreement?

The fishing agreement which was part of the free trade deal between the UK and the EU was signed after Brexit and was one of the most difficult parts of negotiations.

It allowed EU boats to fish in UK waters but gave the UK more of the share of fish which will increase in time.

The UK says it has approved 98% of all applicants to fish in British waters, but France has accused the government of not approving enough to fish within the 6-12 mile zone off the coast.

They also say 55 boats have been denied the rights to fish off the coast of the island of Jersey – a British Crown dependency off the coast of France.

Read more: Boris Johnson's government surprised EU 'rigidly' sticking to Brexit rules

A British fishing vessel has been detained off the coast of France. (PA)

They say the evidence being demanded by the British government is unrealistic and is breaking the free trade agreement between the UK and the EU.

Will supplies of fish to the UK be affected?

Unlikely, the UK imports huge amounts of its fish from foreign countries and British fishermen often sell their goods abroad.

If the row ever escalated to such an extent British fishermen were completely unable to fish around France then UK retailers would likely be able to fill the gap via other imports.

What has the French government said about the dispute?

French authorities said the UK’s failure to comply with trade agreements is “unacceptable” and they will defend the rights of their own fishermen.

France’s Europe minister, Clement Beaune, told French TV news channel CNews: “We have been extremely patient… our fishermen have been extremely responsible… And so, from 2 November, it’s over: we will engage in dialogue if the British want to, but we are taking retaliatory measures.”

He added: “Now we need to speak the language of force because, unfortunately, that seems to be the only thing this British government understands.”

French maritime minister Annick Girardin also told French radio news programme RTL Matin that Britain’s “failure to comply” with the Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) is “unacceptable”.

“It’s not war, it’s a fight,” she said.

What has been the UK response?

In an emergency statement to the Commons, environment secretary George Eustice said threats to block British boats from French ports and tighten checks appear to breach international law.

He said the UK will deliver an “appropriate and calibrated response” if France follows through with the measures.

Read more: Brexit’s impact on economy worse than pandemic – OBR

Environment Secretary George Eustice has said the UK is investigating what has happened. (PA)

Eustice told MPs the Cornelis had been given a licence to the EU but there were reports it had been revoked.

Eustice said the UK has licensed 98% of EU vessels that have applied for access post-Brexit and more are expected to be granted following “constructive” talks with the European Commission.

He noted that he had told France and the European Commission that the UK’s “door remains ever open”.

Home secretary Priti Patel described the situation on Thursday as “disappointing” in an interview with ITV News.

She said: “We as a country have fulfilled all our obligations under the TCA [the UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement].

“But at the same time, government and cross-government discussions will continue both at commission level but also with counterparts within the French administration.

What will happen next?

It's hard to say, the both the UK and France are ramping up their war of words right now mostly to appeal to their domestic audiences.

France has said if the situation is not resolved they will begin imposing sanctions on British fishing from 2 November.

This could involve routine checks on British ships, banning some vessels from French ports, and tightening up of controls around lorries to and from the UK.

Whatever happens ultimately, the UK and France are very close allies and despite Brexit have remained committed to each other.

It is likely the EU will work with the UK to broker an agreement to avoid any further escalation.

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