UK minister says could board more French boats in fishing dispute

The British trawler kept by the French authority docks at the port in Le Havre, western France, Oct 28, 2021. The French authority fined two British fishing vessels and kept one in port overnight on Oct 28, 2021 amid a worsening dispute over fishing licenses that has stoked tensions following the UK's departure from the European Union. (MICHEL EULER / AP PHOTO)

LONDON – Britain could order the boarding of more French vessels in retaliation for the detention by France of a British scallop trawler in French waters, a British minister said as a post-Brexit fishing dispute escalated.

Britain’s foreign minister has summoned France’s ambassador to London to explain Paris’ actions later on Friday.

“Obviously it’s always open to us to always increase the enforcement that we do on French vessels, to board more of them if that’s what they’re doing to our vessels,” British Environment Secretary George Eustice told BBC television.

British Environment Secretary George Eustice said London’s focus for now was trying to resolve the issue with the European Commission and with France’s ambassador to London

“There are other administrative things that we can require of vessels. It’s not something that we want to get into.”

The Cornelis Gert Jan, a scallop dredger, was escorted to the northern port of Le Havre after its crew failed to prove it was allowed to fish in French territorial waters, according to French officials.

Eustice said London’s focus for now was trying to resolve the issue with the European Commission and with France’s ambassador to London.

“We obviously reserve the ability to be able to respond in a proportionate way, ” Eustice said.

France has listed potential sanctions against Britain if there is no progress in talks, including extra customs checks on British goods from Nov 2 and what was seen in London as a threat to cut electricity exports to Britain if talks fail.

French Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie told France 2 TV on Friday that there was no progress in talks between France and Britain over post-Brexit fishing licenses, and said it was right for France to consider sanctions against the UK.

French authorities said on Friday the captain of Cornelis Gert Jan will face a court hearing next year. 

Cyrille Fournier, who represents the prosecutor’s office for the French port of Le Havre, said in a statement that the captain had been asked to appear in court on Aug 11, 2022.

He added that the trawler did not have the required licences to operate in those parts of French territorial waters. This has been denied by Scottish company Macduff Shellfish, which used the boat and has said it did have the appropriate licences.

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Post-Brexit access to British waters has prompted tension between Britain and France. 

France complained only half of the licenses needed were given to its fishing boats to operate in British territorial waters. Britain insisted it has granted 98 percent of license applications from EU vessels to fish in its waters.

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A British government spokesperson said in a statement that France's threats are "disappointing and disproportionate," and if carried through, will be met with an appropriate and calibrated response.

Post-Brexit fishing row between Britain and France started earlier this year after the British Channel island of Jersey's government introduced a new licensing system requiring French boats to show fishing history in Jersey's waters to obtain future permits. It prompted both sides to dispatch navy vessels to monitor the situation in Jersey's waters in May.