France postpones fishing row sanctions on Britain

French president has threatened to disrupt UK-French trade if dispute is not resolved

France seized the Cornelis Gert Jan, saying it was fishing in its territorial waters without a licence. Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday he was postponing by one day planned trade sanctions on Britain so that negotiators from both sides could work on new proposals to defuse their dispute over post-Brexit fishing rights.

France had earlier said that, from 11.00pm on Monday, it would restrict cross-Channel trade, threatening to turn bickering over fish into a wider trade dispute between two of Europe's biggest economies.

But Mr Macron, who earlier on Monday met British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the sidelines of the Cop26 UN climate conference in Glasgow, told reporters the French plan was on hold pending the outcome of renewed talks.

“Since this afternoon, discussions have resumed on the basis of a proposal I made to Prime Minister Johnson. The talks need to continue,” Mr Macron told reporters.

“My understanding is that the British were going to come back to us tomorrow with other proposals. All that will be worked on. We'll see where we are tomorrow at the end of the day, to see if things have really changed,” he said.

“My wish is that we can find a way out on all these issues.”

Downing Street welcomed the announcement from Mr Macron and said the UK had had set out its position on the possibility of French sanctions in recent days.

“As we have said consistently, we are ready to continue intensive discussions on fisheries, including considering any new evidence to support the remaining license applications," said a government spokesperson.

“We welcome France's acknowledgement that in-depth discussions are needed to resolve the range of difficulties in the UK/EU relationship. Lord Frost has accepted Clement Beaune’s invitation and looks forward to the discussions in Paris on Thursday”.

But on Tuesday, a British scallop dredger seized by France last week is still being held at the port of Le Havre, the owner of the ship said, despite a UK minister saying the vessel had been released by French authorities.

Andrew Brown, a director of Macduff Shellfish which owns the Cornelis Gert Jan, told Reuters: "As far as we are aware, the vessel remains held at the port of Le Havre at least until the hearing tomorrow."

British Environment Secretary George Eustice had earlier on said he understood the vessel had been freed by France.

But he welcomed the French decision "to step back from the threats they made".

Earlier on Monday, Britain gave France 48 hours to back down from the threat of sanctions or face legal action under the Brexit trade deal.

The measures threatened by France include increased border and sanitary checks on goods from Britain and banning British vessels from some French ports, steps that have the potential to snarl cross-Channel trade.

French fishermen repair their nets at Boulogne-sur-Mer, northern France. Reuters

“The French have made completely unreasonable threats, including to the Channel Islands and to our fishing industry, and they need to withdraw those threats or else we will use the mechanisms of our trade agreement with the EU to take action,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told Sky News.

Asked within what time frame France should back down, Ms Truss said: “This issue needs to be resolved in the next 48 hours.”

Updated: November 2nd 2021, 10:57 AM