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UK threatens to trigger EU dispute tool over French fishing row

By AFP - Oct 30,2021 - Last updated at Oct 30,2021

ROME — UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson complained to EU chief Ursula von der Leyen on Saturday that French threats over fishing were "completely unjustified" as a British minister said London was "actively considering" invoking a Brexit dispute tool for the first time.

For her part, Von Der Leyen tweeted that the European Commission was "intensively engaging for finding solutions" on both the fishing spat and another linked row with Brussels over their divorce pact's implementation in Northern Ireland.

The simmering feud over fish has already seen a British trawler detained in a French port and Paris' ambassador in London summoned to the Foreign Office for the type of dressing down usually reserved for hostile states not allies.

During talks on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Rome, Johnson "raised his concerns about the rhetoric from the French government in recent days over the issue of fishing licences", his office said.

Johnson stressed "the French threats are completely unjustified and do not appear to be compatible" with the agreement governing Britain's departure from the European Union.

Hours earlier, Johnson told Sky News he has not ruled out invoking an as-yet untested dispute settlement process allowed under the terms of the separation struck last year.

“No of course not, I don’t rule that out,” he said, the day after Britain warned it may also implement new checks on all EU fishing boats.

‘Very troubling’ 

France is incensed that Britain and the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey have not issued some French boats licences to fish in their waters post-Brexit.

Paris has vowed that unless licences are approved, it will ban UK boats from unloading their catches at French ports from next Tuesday and impose checks on all products brought to France from Britain.

On Friday, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said in a leaked letter to von der Leyen that Britain should be shown “it causes more damage to leave the EU than to stay in”.

The letter, obtained by Politico, drew an angry response from Johnson’s Brexit minister David Frost, who said Saturday he hoped “this opinion is not held more widely across the EU”.

“To see it expressed in this way is clearly very troubling and very problematic,” he added in a series of tweets.

Doubling down on Johnson’s remarks, Frost said London was “actively considering launching dispute settlement proceedings” over the French threats.

Meanwhile, a British trawler diverted Wednesday to the northern port of Le Havre by France on Wednesday on charges of operating without a licence will remain held there until a 150,000 euro ($173,000) bond is paid, local officials said Saturday.

“The boat will not leave until the guarantees and the deposit are paid,” the sub-prefecture of Le Havre added.

Prosecutors have ordered a trial for the Irish captain of the Scottish-registered trawler accused of illegally scooping up more than two tons of scallops in French waters.

‘Small beer’ 

Johnson has emphasised his personal ties with French President Emmanuel Macron, hinting they could help diffuse the spat.

Their body language at the G-20 suggested still friendly relations, though they did not appear to speak to one another.

At a side meeting on Iran with the US and German leaders, they exchanged friendly pats on the back, while the UK leader gave his French counterpart a mock-combative fist bump as they arrived for the leaders’ “family photo”.

A brief tete-a-tete is intended at some point over the weekend.

Macron warned on Friday that Britain’s “credibility” was on the line in the dispute, accusing London of ignoring the Brexit deal agreed after years of tortuous negotiations.

“When you spend years negotiating a treaty and then a few months later you do the opposite of what was decided on the aspects that suit you the least, it is not a big sign of your credibility,” he told the Financial Times.

However, with the crucial 12-day COP26 climate change summit starting on Sunday in Glasgow, Johnson said the fishing dispute “is quite frankly small beer, trivial, by comparison with the threat to humanity that we face”.

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