UK risks new fishing war with France by rejecting dozens of licences

French have become increasingly angry over how the UK has controlled access to its waters

French boatmen protest in front of the port of Saint Helier off the British island of Jersey over fishing restrictions. AFP
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Britain enraged France on Tuesday by rejecting dozens of applications for small fishing boats to operate in its waters after Brexit.

The UK government granted only 12 out of 47 applications, saying the others did not have enough proof that they habitually fished in British waters.

It added to tensions between Britain and France just days after a separate spat over submarines, in which French politicians cried foul over a UK-US-Australia defence pact that sidelined Paris.

French Maritime Minister Annick Girardin called the fishing decision "a new British refusal to apply the conditions of the Brexit accord".

"French fishing must not be held hostage by the British for political ends," Ms Girardin said.

Fishing was one of the key stumbling blocks in protracted Brexit talks last year. French fishermen have become increasingly angry over Britain's controlled access for EU boats into its waters after it left the bloc.

Paris separately took aim at Britain on Monday over the fuel shortages causing havoc in the UK. France's European Affairs Minister, Clement Beaune, said they exposed the "intellectual fraud" of Brexit.

London says it has pursued a "reasonable approach", issuing nearly 1,700 licences to EU boats to fish in Britain's exclusive economic zone, which is defined as being between 19 and 320 kilometres from the coast.

A total of 117 have been issued for the zone between 9.5km and 19km off the coast.

"EU vessels must provide evidence of a track record of fishing activity in those [9.5-19km] waters," the government said on Tuesday.

"We have been considering applications for vessels of under 12 metres in length to fish in this zone and, on the basis of the evidence available, we are able to grant licences for 12 of the 47 applications made."

The other applications were rejected because of insufficient evidence that the boats fished in the area between 2012 and 2016, as stipulated in the Brexit agreement last year between London and Brussels.

"We continue to work with the Commission and the French authorities, and will consider any further evidence provided to support the remaining licence applications," the UK government said.

London insisted that its "approach has been reasonable and fully in line with our commitments in the Trade and Co-operation Agreement".

The list of successful vessels is due to be published on Wednesday.

France says that 87 applications have been made, with the discrepancy revolving around licences for vessels replacing older boats that previously fished in the area.

Updated: September 29, 2021, 7:18 AM