‘Vulnerable and exposed’ France have ‘much more to lose’ as UK fishing war explodes

France seizes British boat amidst Brexit fishing row

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The increasingly bitter war of words between Britain and France erupted on Thursday after a UK trawler was detained in a French port. Last month, France was left furious after the UK approved just 15 permits out of 47 applications for small French fishing boats to operate in its territorial waters. Jersey, which relies on France for 95 percent of its electricity supply, issued 66 full licenses and 31 temporary permits, but refused 73 applications.

French ministers have intensified tensions by warning they will block British boats from some of the country’s ports and tighten checks on vessels travelling between France and the UK.

Emmanuel Macron’s Government wants the issue resolved by Tuesday or retaliatory measures will be imposed, which could include cutting off electricity supply to the Channel Islands.

Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO), believes the latest row is not another round of the infamous “scallop wars”, which erupted in 2018 between British and French fleets over post-Brexit fishing rights.

He suggested the fishing war with the UK could be a way of Mr Macron showing his support for French fishermen ahead of the Presidential election in May 2022, but believes it may have already come at a huge cost.

Mr Deas told the i newspaper: “There’s a presidential election in France.

“Maybe it’s about being seen to support fishermen. Picking a fight with the UK plays into that narrative.

“It doesn’t make sense to do what they did. It’s a technical issue.

“If you go down into this tit for tat approach, the French have much more to lose – they fish in our waters more than we do theirs. They’re vulnerable and exposed.

“It’s political rhetoric. The tone is conflictual – it seems to me that it’s for a political purpose.”

France detained a British trawler on Thursday and issued another with a verbal warning after authorities claimed they were found in fishing waters off the French coast during checks close to Le Harve in Normandy.

French Maritime minister Annick Girardin said one of the trawlers did not “comply” while another “did not have a licence to fish in our waters”.

On Wednesday, the French Government gave the UK less than a week to stand down from its stance on fishing licenses, warning it would begin to impose “targeted measures” from Tuesday.

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But Mr Deas insisted he heard from UK Government ministers it had been “progressing well” and attempted to calm fears over the disagreements between Britain and France.

He added: “I think issues like this are just part of adjusting. There’s an awful lot of politics going on but detaining vessels doesn’t make sense.

“Defra has said 98 per cent of licenses applied for have been granted to EU boats and the same is the case in reverse.

“Nothing needs to be escalated, things are working well and talks have been constructive.

“Fishermen just want to get on. Nobody wants difficulties because there would be no winners.

“It’s about trade. I think this was a higher level issue for political gain.”

Environment Secretary George Eustice has not ruled out the UK blocking French vessels and reacted furiously to a claim from France’s Europe minister Clement Beaune that the only language Britain understands is “the language of force”.

Mr Eustice told BBC Breakfast on Friday: “That is completely inflammatory and is the wrong way to go about things.”

When asked how the UK will respond if France follows through with a threat to block British trawlers, the Cabinet minister warned: “Two can play at that game.

“If the French obviously do continue with this, then yes, we will take a proportionate response to that.”

He added: “It’s always open to us to increase the enforcement we do on French vessels, to board more of them if that’s what they’re doing to our vessels – there are other administrative things we can require of vessels.”

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