France requests tougher EU action over UK fishing row in private letter

France has privately requested that the European Union steps up its opposition to British actions in the ongoing fishing row, telling Brussels it should demonstrate to the public that it is more damaging to leave the EU than to stay.

As the disagreement between Paris and London threatened to overshadow the G20 meeting in Rome and the COP26 summit hosted by Boris Johnson in Glasgow next week, French Prime Minister Jean Castex wrote to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday.

In the letter, obtained by POLITICO, Castex warns that the U.K.’s failure to cooperate with French demands on its fishing licenses damages the EU’s future credibility.

The “non-cooperative attitude of the United Kingdom” risks harming not just the French fishermen, but also the EU, as it would “set a precedent for the future and it calls into question our credibility and our capacity to defend our rights when it comes to international agreements signed by the Union,” the French PM writes.

Castex asks for a meeting of the EU-U.K. Partnership Council, a supervisory body for the post-Brexit trade deal, at the start of November.

If no satisfactory solution is found via this process, Castex states that the EU would have to apply Article 506 of the trade and cooperation accord and take “corrective measures,” proportionate to the social and economic damage resulting from presumed losses, notably by instituting tariffs on certain seafood products.

The comments will likely be seized upon by Boris Johnson as evidence that the fishing row is not just about licenses for French boats operating in the English Channel, but about Brexit more generally. Downing Street declined to comment on the letter on Friday night.

On Wednesday, France threatened increased checks on British fishing boats and trucks if the U.K. doesn’t issue fishing permits to all the French fishers who have applied for one.

Paris is also considering tariffs on electricity to the Channel Islands, and has called for EU-U.K. cooperation in other areas to be frozen until the fishing dispute is solved.

The U.K. on Friday threatened legal action under the Brexit trade deal if France retaliates over Britain’s allocation of post-Brexit fishing permits.

The European Commission did not respond to a request for comment on Friday night.

Cristina Gallardo and Clea Caulcutt provided additional reporting.



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