France threatens UK with retaliation over fishing permits

LONDON — France has threatened “retaliatory action” after the U.K. rejected three-quarters of all applications from French boats to fish in the Channel Islands’ waters.

The British government announced 12 small boats out of 47 would be allowed to fish in the U.K.’s inshore waters, leaving 35 without permits.

It said these boats had failed to provide enough evidence to meet Jersey’s requirement of a fishing track record in its waters between 2012 and 2016, as set out in the Brexit trade deal.

Including licenses previously issued by the U.K., 100 permits out of 175 have now been granted, according to the French Ministry of the Sea.

France’s Europe Minister Clément Beaune accused Britain of not complying with the terms of the agreement, saying Paris “will not hesitate to take retaliatory action, collectively.”

“We understand and share the exasperation of our fishermen. We cannot cooperate in confidence with the U.K. until the deal is honored,” he told the RTL radio station.

The row over fishing permits, which in May saw both sides dispatching patrol vessels to the self-governing island of Jersey and France threatening to pull the plug on Jersey’s electricity, is intensifying at a sensitive moment for British-French relations.

Paris was angered by Britain’s participation in the AUKUS defense alliance with the U.S. and Australia, which saw Australia abandon a multibillion-euro submarine deal with France.

Annick Girardin, the French minister of the sea, said French fishing communities “must not be taken hostage by the British for political ends.”

“This is another British refusal to implement the terms of the Brexit deal despite all the work being done together,” she said. “Starting tomorrow, I will meet with the players in the sector in order to support them in monitoring these decisions and build an appropriate response.”

Since Brexit, the U.K. has granted licenses to fish in Britain’s 12-200 mile zone to almost 1,700 vessels, but the row focuses on boats of under 12 meters wanting to fish in the 6-12 mile zone.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s former chief Brexit negotiator now running for French president, suggested the British decision could have a significant impact on its relationship with France at a time of record low levels of trust.

“Brexit is done. One key issue for us in France … is about the right implementation of what we have agreed with the Brits, not only on the peace in [Northern] Ireland but also on fisheries. This point is important,” he told an event in London Tuesday.

A U.K. government spokesperson said Britain’s approach has been “reasonable and fully in line” with the country’s commitments as set out in the EU-U.K. Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

In a bid to appease the French, the autonomous government of Jersey announced Friday it would grant temporary permits to EU vessels and renew provisional licenses expiring Thursday until January 31, 2022, for those who are still missing the required proof.

French fishing communities affected by Brexit are set to receive €100 million in EU funds from the bloc’s Brexit Adjustment Reserve.

The European Commission said it “regrets that it has not been possible to bring this issue now to an end” despite “the exhaustive evidence provided by the EU.”

“We will ask the U.K. for full disclosure of their methodology and will continue to further engage in the interest of our fishermen and -women so that further licenses will be provided,” a spokesperson said.

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