EU deadline in Franco-British fishing row expires

An EU deadline for Britain to grant licences to dozens of French fishing boats appeared to expire Friday without a final breakthrough in talks, despite France's threat to seek European legal action.

This photograph shows fishing boats docked in the harbour of Ouistreham, northwestern France.
France and Britain are still at loggerheads over fishing licences. The row could see the EU impose financial penalties if Britain is judged to be reneging on its post-Brexit commitments. Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP

France says that 104 of its boats still lack licences to operate in British and Channel Island waters that should have been granted under a Brexit deal Britain signed with the European Union in December last year.

But Britain had not made any announcement about granting more licences by 2200 GMT, while France said it was not planning any statement on the matter either.

Britain earlier denied discriminating against French boats and says many of the vessels are unable to provide the paperwork required to qualify for a licence.

“This is a technical process based on evidence rather than deadlines,” a UK government spokesman said.

But France’s Europe Minister Clement Beaune held out the possibility of Britain granting “a few dozen more as a gesture of goodwill,” which would mean talks could continue, and the European Commission said it was hoping for a breakthrough later Friday.

“If they stick to their guns, then we will ask the European Commission to begin a legal complaint,” Beaune told Franceinfo radio on Friday.

British Environment Secretary George Eustice held talks with EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius on Friday.

“Intensive technical discussions over recent days have been constructive, however they have not yet reached their conclusion,” the UK spokesperson said.

“Our position remains that vessels must provide sufficient evidence of historic fishing activity in order to receive a licence.”

Relations sink
In Brussels, earlier in the day, an EU spokeswoman said talks with Britain were underway and the goal was still to reach a deal Friday.

“On both sides, on the European Commission and UK, we have agreed that we have this mutual commitment to end these discussions for the successful outcome today,” Vivian Loonela said.

France and Britain have clashed repeatedly this year over fishing as well as migrants crossing the Channel, post-Brexit trade arrangements, and the sale of submarines to Australia.

“The problem with the British government is that it does not do what it says,” French President Emmanuel Macron told a news conference on Thursday, just weeks after he accused British Prime Minister Boris Johnson of having a “not serious” approach on tackling migration.

The British government has said it does not recognise Friday as a deadline to resolve the fishing row.

“We’ve never set a deadline. I recognise they (the EU) themselves have set one but it’s not one we’re working to,” Johnson’s spokesman told reporters on Thursday.

If France lodges a complaint with the European Commission, it could lead to the start of a formal infringement procedure against Britain.

EU sanctions threat 
The eventual final step, if the two sides are unable to resolve their differences, could see the EU impose financial penalties or even tariffs on British goods if Britain is judged to be reneging on its commitments under the December 2020 post-Brexit trade deal.

The EU and Britain are also locked in a separate trade row over checks on products entering the British province of Northern Ireland after the UK government unilaterally postponed the introduction of checks.

Under the Brexit deal, European fishermen can continue to work in British waters as long as they can prove that they used to fish there.

France says small boats without GPS data are being penalised while Britain is also often refusing to issue licences to new boats that replaced older vessels in the French fishing fleet.

Britain denies the French claims and the European Commission said that officials were studying log books from the French fleet written between 2012-2016 — before boats were equipped with digital monitors — to establish evidence that crews have a history in Jersey waters.

The EU says 95 percent of the licences that Britain promised EU boats after Brexit have been granted, and that the remaining ones in doubt are for waters off the Channel Island of Jersey.

“We received some new evidence from the Commission yesterday and again this morning which we are now studying alongside Jersey,” the UK spokesperson said.

“Clearly, the receipt of this new data is welcome, however we will be led by the quality of the evidence.”

READ ALSO: ANALYSIS: Why the new fishing row between France and UK could get nasty

Member comments

  1. According to Jersey, the EU has been monitoring their methodology on a daily basis and has had no complaints. I think the French are out on a limb on this.

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BREAKING: Castex resigns ahead of announcement of new French PM

French Prime Minister Jean Castex officially handed in his resignation on Monday with President Emmanuel Macron set to name his successor imminently.

BREAKING: Castex resigns ahead of announcement of new French PM

Macron accepted the resignation of Castex after the pair spoke at the Elysée Palace on Monday afternoon.

READ MORE: What does a French Prime Minister actually do?

Previously Castex told French daily Le Parisien he prepared a “very simple, very classic” letter of departure, saying he is leaving the office “without remorse, nor regret.”

The departure of Castex, who was a surprise choice for the role in 2020, and the reshuffle will enable newly re-elected Macron to reshape the cabinet ahead of crucial parliamentary polls in June.

The centrist will need a parliamentary majority to push through his domestic agenda following his re-election, with a new left-wing alliance and the far-right threatening to block his programme.

Speculation has been rife in recent weeks about Castex’s replacement, with Macron indicating he wanted a woman with left-wing and environmental credentials.

Those criteria reflect his desire to focus on schools and health in the early part of his second term, as well as the climate crisis which he has promised to prioritise.

UNESCO director-general Audrey Azoulay, current Labour Minister Elisabeth Borne and latterly Catherine Vautrin, a little-known politician from the Champagne region, have been named as frontrunners.

Borne looks to be the favourite.

READ MORE: French phrase of the day: Locataire de Matignon

Nominating what would be only the second female prime minister in modern French history is sure to generate positive headlines.

The last woman premier, Edith Cresson, told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper on Sunday that French politics remained “macho” more than 30 years after she briefly headed the cabinet from May 1991-April 1992 under president Francois Mitterrand.

“She’ll need lots of courage,” Cresson said.