Emmanuel Macron set a November 2 deadline for the UK to issue more licenses to EU vessels seeking to enter British waters. He has warned that unless more licences are granted for their small boats to fish in British waters, he is willing to bar UK fishing boats from some ports and tighten customs checks on lorries entering the country.
So far, the United Kingdom has remained defiant in the face of posturing from across the Channel. With both sides at odds, the French President has only one day to withdraw his threats or risk escalating trade tensions on both sides.
Boris Johnson has vowed to retaliate if Paris takes any action. Mr Macron isn’t even sure he has Brussels’ support for his high-risk strategy.
The European Commission was caught off guard by France’s ultimatum to the UK last week and is now frantically assessing whether the proposed measures are legal under international law and the EU trade treaty.
Mr Johnson and Mr Macron met yesterday on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome to try to reach an agreement on fishing.
However, while the Élysée Palace reported that both sides had agreed on ways to reduce tensions, the UK stated that no such agreement had been reached and that it was up to France to retract its menacing rhetoric.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said this morning, “The deal hasn’t been done, 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.”
“The French have behaved unfairly. It’s not within the terms of the trade deal. And if somebody behaves unfairly in a trade deal, you’re entitled to take action against them and seek some compensatory measures. And that is what we will do if the French doesn’t back down.”
Truss also slammed Mr Macron for attempting to stoke tensions to help him at home, “You might say there’s a French election coming up. I’m not remotely happy about what has happened.”
The fishing dispute has been simmering for months, but it reached a boiling point last week when the French government issued an ultimatum for more fishing licenses on November 2.
Under the terms of the EU trade agreement, European vessels that have previously fished in UK waters must be issued licenses to continue doing so.
According to Paris, Britain is failing to honour its commitments under the agreement and is refusing applications.
Officials in the United Kingdom say they have issued licenses to all those who have provided proper documentation and are continuing to work with the European Commission to assist those who have failed to provide adequate proof of their right to fish in British waters.
In total, 171 vessels have been licensed to fish in the UK’s six to twelve nautical mile zone, 103 of which are French, with 18 measuring less than 12 metres.
It means that 98 per cent of all applications are approved. Mr Macron reiterated his threats to the UK last night, saying that “the ball is now in their court.”
He told a post-G20 press conference that if the British do not make a significant move, measures will have to be implemented beginning November 2.
“I would deplore it. But what we cannot do is not respond and not defend our fishermen.”