The UK has threatened retaliation after France detained a British trawler as a long-running dispute over post-Brexit fishing rights escalated.
Paris said on Wednesday night that it would increase customs and sanitary controls on freight at the border, make stricter checks of trucks coming in and leaving France, and ban trawlers from landing their catch in some French ports. France also repeated a threat to electricity supplies to the UK
France also announced overnight that gendarmes had escorted one British boat to Le Havre because it did not have a licence to fish in French waters. The catch could be seized and the captain could be fined after a court hearing.
A second fishing boat near the Normandy coast did not immediately allow French officials to board for a check of its papers and was issued with a warning.
The UK government said the French proposals, which threaten to disrupt trade through the important Dover-Calais route, were “disappointing” and probably breached its post-Brexit accord with the EU.
“The measures being threatened do not appear to be compatible with the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) and wider international law, and, if carried through, will be met with an appropriate and calibrated response. We will be relaying our concerns to the EU Commission and French government.”
Lord David Frost, Brexit minister, added: “We will consider what further action is necessary.” France supplies electricity to the UK and Jersey through undersea cables.
France’s Europe minister Clement Beaune said in a television interview on Thursday that the new stricter controls were aimed at forcing the UK back to the table to issue more fishing licences after months of discussions.
“It is time to speak the language of force because I fear that it is all the government of the UK understands,” he said on CNews. “There will be zero tolerance and no compromises.”
Tensions over fishing rights have been simmering for months after the UK rejected requests by some small French boats to continue fishing in British waters under the Brexit accord. The dispute is over the right to fish in waters six to 12 nautical miles off Britain’s shores, as well as in the seas off the island of Jersey, close to France.
In May the UK sent naval vessels to Jersey after a blockade by frustrated French fishermen denied licences to fish in its waters.
France claims only half of those eligible have been given licences to continue fishing even after it had furnished data and documents of past fishing activity by these boats to support the applications. “We will not let the UK wipe its feet with the Brexit agreement,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday.
He added that Paris had first turned to the European Commission over the issue as was called for under the treaty.
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The commission and EU member states have yet to back France’s call for action. Brussels, which has been examining evidence from French boats, on Tuesday said the UK had approved 15 out of 47 applications for French boats to operate in the six to 12 mile zone. Another 15 could be licensed if they provided more evidence, while 17 applications were withdrawn because of “poor evidence”.
Just 66 out of 170 vessels applying to fish off Jersey received licences, the commission said, with a further 35 still being assessed and 69 rejected.
Annick Girardin, French maritime minister, accused the UK government of lying. London said it had agreed to 98 per cent of licence requests for EU boats but she said the figure was 90.3 per cent. “Evidently, the missing 10 per cent are French,” she said on Twitter.