‘We obviously reserve the ability to respond in a proportionate way,’ George Eustice says
The environment secretary insisted, however, that the UK had done “nothing wrong” and wanted to “defuse the issue” — just hours after Liz Truss summoned the French ambassador to the Foreign Office over the seizure of a British fishing boat.
French ministers have also warned they will block British boats from some French ports and tighten checks on vessels travelling between France and the UK if the issue is not resolved by 2 November — as well as threatening the electricity supply to the Channel Islands.
Addressing the flare-up in tensions, Mr Eustice told Sky News the comments from French authorities authorities were “completely disproportionate”, “unacceptable”, and “inflammatory” during a series of interviews on Friday.
On the measures threatened by France, the cabinet minister said: “We don’t know what they will do. They said they wouldn’t introduce these measures until Tuesday — probably at the earliest.
“But obviously if they do bring these in to place, well two can play at that game. We obviously reserve the ability to respond in a proportionate way.”
In a rare move for an allied nation on Thursday evening, the foreign secretary said she was summoning the French ambassador to the UK, Catherine Colonna, to the Foreign Office amid threats of sanctions.
Ms Truss said: “I have instructed Europe Minister Wendy Morton to summon the French Ambassador to the UK for talks… to explain the disappointing and disproportionate threats made against the UK and Channel Islands.”
“There are elections coming up in France, I’ve seen suggestions that might be a factor,” the cabinet minister claimed.
“But we have to deal with what we’re faced with here, which is France threatening us and actions that are completely disproportionate, are not acceptable, and would be a breach of the agreement that we have with them.
“That’s why we’re going to be raising that with their ambassador, raising it with the (European) Commission.”
He added: “We want to defuse this issue, but the truth is we’ve not done anything wrong. We’ve abided by the terms of the trade and co-operation agreement. Nearly 1,700 EU vessels have been licensed to fish in our waters.
“There’s a small percentage, just two per cent of applicants who don’t qualify. So the reaction France has come up with is totally disproportionate.”