UK being ‘constructive’ in Brexit fishing row talks, says France

Remarks from French minister are further sign tensions provoked by dispute may be easing

First published on Wed 3 Nov 2021 09.03 EDT

Britain is showing a “constructive” spirit in talks with France to resolve a row over post-Brexit fishing licences, the French government has said, in a further sign the dispute may be entering calmer waters.

The French transport minister, Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, said he had spoken to his UK counterpart on Tuesday evening. “The spirit is a constructive one,” he said, noting that French fishers had been granted 49 more licences on Monday.

The rancorous dispute over French fishing rights in the six- to 12-mile zone from the UK shore and around Guernsey and Jersey has helped take British-French relations to a post-Brexit low.

In a sign tensions may be easing, EU officials sounded an optimistic note before a meeting between the UK Brexit minister, David Frost, and the French Europe minister, Clément Beaune, in Paris on Thursday.

“Officials from the UK, France, Jersey and the commission have been meeting for the the past two days,” a European Commission spokesperson said on Wednesday. “These talks have allowed us to chart the way forward on several aspects and have created a positive dynamic aiming at a solution.”

The spokesperson added that technical talks would continue on Wednesday, including with some officials from Guernsey. The talks “have allowed for better understanding of the outstanding issues, which have been impeding quicker progress and we hope that the positive engagement on all sides will soon translate into concrete results”, the spokesperson said.

UK government sources said they were going to the meeting on Thursday with a “solutions focus” but cautioned against any big breakthrough. While not ruling out progress, they said they did not anticipate all the issues would be resolved at the Paris meeting. They also knocked back suggestions that the UK was revising its licensing rules and said its “licensing criteria has not changed”.

The comments are a further sign of de-escalation in the row, which had threatened to tip into a trade war. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, announced talks would continue on Monday, as he stepped back from a threat to impose full customs checks on UK goods and ban UK boats entering some French ports from 2 November.

Beaune then invited Frost for an “in-depth discussion over the difficulties in applying the agreements between the EU and the UK” in Paris on Thursday. Beaune said last week that the “language of strength… seems to be the only thing this British government understands”.

The two men clashed on Twitter over the weekend, both setting our their claims as to why the other side was in breach of the post-Brexit trade agreement.

Frost said the UK government had granted 98% of fishing licence applications and was acting in good faith to meet its obligations. He said if the French threats were implemented the EU would be in breach of the post-Brexit trade and cooperation agreement (TCA).

Beaune countered that more than 90% of licences had been granted for the EU as a whole, but the missing ones were all French: “After 10 months, when such a significant amount of licences, targeting one country, is missing, it’s not a technical issue, it’s a political choice and a breach of the TCA.”

Under the trade agreement, French fishers can continue to fish around the Channel Islands and six to 12 miles off the UK shore until 2026 as long as they obtain a licence from British authorities.

To receive that licence they must provide evidence of fishing in those waters between 2012 and 2016, but Britain and France have disagreed over the kind of evidence required. France says the requirement for GPS data is unfair on small boats, which do not have the equipment. The UK government says it determines the evidence required, while stressing there is no deadline to submit proof to get a licence.

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