The UK’s credibility is at risk, French President Emmanuel Macron said as a dispute between France and the UK over post-Brexit fishing rights brews.
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there was “turbulence” in the UK-France relationship and did not rule out invoking a Brexit dispute mechanism with the EU for the first time.
But he said the fishing row was “trivial” in comparison with “the threat to humanity” faced by climate change.
Paris is threatening to block British boats from its ports and tighten checks on products brought from Britain to France if a dispute over a lack of licences for small French boats to fish in UK waters is not resolved by Tuesday.
France seized a British vessel this week, saying it was fishing without the correct licences.
The UK’s withdrawal from the EU is governed by the Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA), which London and Paris each accuse the other of breaching.
The TCA allows for Britain or the EU to trigger a dispute settlement process, which is so far untested since Brexit took effect at the start of this year.
“When you spend years negotiating a treaty and then a few months later you do the opposite of what was decided on the aspects that suit you the least, it is not a big sign of your credibility,” Mr Macron told the Financial Times.
Asked if he ruled out invoking the dispute process, Mr Johnson said: “No, of course not.”
“But what I think everybody wants to see is co-operation between the European allies and Emmanuel Macron,” he told Sky News.
“And I share a common perspective [with them] which is that climate change is a disaster for humanity and that we have the tools to tackle it,” he said in Rome at the G20 leaders summit, and a day before the start of the UN Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.
Mr Macron and Mr Johnson are expected to meet in Rome.
Mr Johnson met European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at the G20 talks, where he raised concerns about the rhetoric of the French government.
"The prime minster stressed that the French threats are completely unjustified and do not appear to be compatible with the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement or wider international law," a Downing Street representative said.
“The prime minister reiterated that the UK has granted 98 per cent of licence applications from EU vessels to fish in the UK’s waters and is happy to consider any further evidence for the remaining 2 per cent.”
Jean-Marc Puissesseau, president and chairman of the ports of Calais and Boulogne-sur-Mer, described the argument as “ridiculous”.
“It will be terrible for both sides of the Channel: for you, for us, for the ports, the fishermen in your country, for the fishermen in our country,” he told the BBC.
“And that’s only for 40 little boats which are not allowed to fish in your country, so I hope there will be an agreement on that over the weekend.”