Sanctions by Paris would put Brussels in breach of Brexit deal, says David Frost
Brexit minister David Frost has warned Brussels that French sanctions in the row over fishing rights in the English Channel would put the European Union in breach of its post-Brexit trade deal with the UK.
Lord Frost said that if Paris goes ahead with the measures as threatened on 2 November, the UK is ready to retaliate by stepping up enforcement and checks on EU fishing boats in British territorial waters, as well as launching dispute settlement proceedings under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA).
The move came after environment minister George Eustice warned that the UK was ready to strike back if France blocks British boats from its ports or cuts electricity supplies to the Channel Islands, telling Paris: “Two can play at that game.”
With the row escalating to a full-scale diplomatic scrap, Downing Street confirmed that Boris Johnson has scheduled a “brush-by” meeting with president Emmanuel Macron at this weekend’s G20 summit in Rome, in a major distraction from his priority of persuading fellow-leaders to deliver on climate change the UN Cop26 summit which the prime minister is chairing in Glasgow next week.
And France’s ambassador to London, Catherine Colonna, was summoned to the Foreign Office to explain Paris’s stance to Europe minister Wendy Morton.
The captain of a Scottish-registered fishing vessel held by the maritime gendarmerie for two days in the port of Le Havre has been ordered to appear in court next year to answer charges of operating without a licence in French waters. The skipper of the Cornelis Gert Jan risks a fine of €75,000, French media reported.
The row over French claims of unfairness in the UK’s award of licences to its boats overshadowed talks in London today between Lord Frost and European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic about the status of the Irish border after Brexit.
Speaking after the talks, a UK government spokesperson said that Lord Frost had set out to Mr Sefcovic the UK’s concerns about “the unjustified measures announced by France earlier this week to disrupt UK fisheries and wider trade, to threaten energy supplies, and to block further cooperation between the UK and the EU, for example on the Horizon research programme”.
The spokesperson said: “Lord Frost made clear that, if these actions were implemented as planned on 2 November, they would put the European Union in breach of the TCA.
“The government is accordingly considering the possibility, in those circumstances, of launching dispute settlement proceedings under the TCA, and of other practical responses, including implementing rigorous enforcement processes and checks on EU fishing activity in UK territorial waters, within the terms of the TCA.”
A European Commission spokesperson said Mr Sefcovic urged the UK to “intensify discussions with the European Commission and France in order to swiftly resolve the issue of pending fishing licences”.
“All French vessels entitled to a licence should receive one,” the spokesperson said.
Following the talks, Lord Frost said that gaps between London and Brussels over the Irish border remain “substantial”.
The Commission’s proposed relaxation of checks on goods to ease frictions at Boris Johnson’s customs border in the Irish Sea were “a welcome step forward” but would not ease movements sufficiently to deliver a durable solution, said the minister.
He also said that Brussels had not engaged with changes demanded by the UK to the Northern Ireland Protocol, which was negotiated and agreed by Lord Frost and Mr Johnson in 2019 and presented by the prime minister at the time as a success, despite widespread warnings that it would disrupt trade between Northern Ireland and the British mainland.
Lord Frost said that “substantial” changes were needed to the terms which he and Mr Johnson agreed, including the removal of a role for the European Court of Justice. Brussels has insisted it will not renegotiate the Protocol.
Lord Frost and Mr Sefcovic are due to continue talks in Brussels on 5 November.