French and British agree to ‘restart political dialogue’ on fishing rights

PARIS – A crunch meeting of British and French ministers intended to resolve a post-Brexit fishing row ended with a smiley handshake but no breakthrough.

“We had a useful and positive discussion,” said France’s Europe Minister Clément Beaune after the meeting in Paris on Thursday. “The talks today marked the restarting of a political dialogue between France and the U.K. within the EU framework.”

However, Beaune added that there “was still a lot of work and important differences of position” on fishing rights.

U.K. Brexit Minister David Frost and Beaune met in the French capital for an hour and a half to review their countries’ bilateral relationship and various issues straining it in recent months, including a dispute over fishing licenses for French boats and post-Brexit trading rules in Northern Ireland.

There was some disagreement as to what exactly was said Thursday.

“We will touch base with David Frost early next week to see if … the new methodology for agreeing [fishing] licenses has been implemented,” said Beaune, referring to France’s argument that the U.K.’s criteria used to approve licenses was too restrictive.

The U.K. however insists it has not agreed on a new set of criteria for approving licenses, but will approve new ones if applicants are able to give enough evidence of having previously fished in British and Channel Island waters before Brexit.

Technical discussions on fishing licenses are expected to restart this weekend or early next week.

In a brief statement, a U.K. spokesperson said the two sides “set out their positions and concerns” and “discussed the range of difficulties arising from the application of the agreements between the U.K. and the EU.” 

On the topic of sanctions against the U.K., Beaune said France would “give dialogue a chance” with the understanding that there was the “need for results in the coming days.”

The fishing row was triggered by the U.K. and Jersey governments’ decision to request EU fishers prove a track record of fishing in their waters as a prerequisite for receiving post-Brexit fishing permits. Many small French boats that enjoyed access to those waters before Brexit have struggled to meet that requirement, at the risk of being banned from operating in the area.

Although the EU and France had hinted that solutions to the fishing row were within reach, the meeting did not yield a deal.

A European Commission spokesman said earlier Thursday that the technical discussions in the last few days have allowed “a growing understanding” of the positions of each side.

“It’s clear that there are many points of convergence on the various outstanding issues, but it is also clear that more time is needed in order to conclude what has proven a highly complex process — so the talks continue,” he said.

Frost will meet Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič in Brussels Friday.

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