The United Kingdom on Thursday summoned the French ambassador in London amid a dispute over fishing rights in the English Channel. The move comes as tensions increase in a heated argument over the issuances of fishing licenses by the UK, Jersey, and France.
France has complained the UK and Jersey, a self-governing British Crown Dependency 22.5 kilometers off the French coast, has not lived up to Brexit negotiations promises and have instead blocked licenses for French fishermen.
”I have instructed Europe Minister Wendy Morton to summon the French Ambassador to the UK for talks tomorrow (Friday) to explain the disappointing and disproportionate threats made against the UK and Channel Islands, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said.
France has threatened to impose retaliatory measures such as tedious new customs and sanitation inspections on all imported goods as of November 2, if the UK does not change course. Fishing bans are under consideration as well and France has repeatedly threatened to cut power to the island of Jersey if it fails to relent.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's office on Thursday said: We regret the confrontational language that has been consistently used by the French government on this issue, which makes this situation no easier to resolve. We have raised our concerns strongly with both the French and the EU Commission.
French Europe Minister Clement Beaune said his country had been forced to use the language of force since that seems to be the only language this British government understands.
On Wednesday, French authorities seized a UK boat and crew, claiming that they were illegally fishing in French waters. French Maritime Minister Annick Girardin said the impounded vessel Cornelis Gert Jan, a scallop dredger, had been escorted to the northern port of Le Havre overnight.
London called the move, disappointing and disproportionate, and not what we would expect from a close ally and partner. Downing Street warned against further retaliation.
The captain of the Cornelis Gert Jan is currently under investigation for dredging 2,160 kilos of scallops and could face a €75,000 fine if found guilty. The ship's owners, Macduff Shellfish, say the vessel is licensed and had been fishing legally.
We are a pawn of bigger forces here. This is to do with licenses and the beef that the French have with the licenses of French vessels, said the company.
Le Havre scallop fishermen say they are fed up with UK vessels having unfair access to shellfish in French waters. There has to be an end to this fraud,” said Pascal Coquet, president of the National Scallop Fishermen's Committee.
In an attempt to calm growing tensions, French Prime Minister Jean Castex on Thursday said he was ready for talks with the UK but insisted London must honor its post-Brexit commitments.
Senior British, French and EU officials have said they do not want to see further escalation but point out that Macron and Johnson are both under pressure from vocal fishing lobbies.
The two leaders have been on especially frosty terms of late as Brexit wrangling continues to dominate all relationships between the UK and the EU, much to the annoyance of Brussels and Paris.
The two leaders will have ample opportunity to speak to one another this week at both the G20 summit in Rome and then at COP26 in Glasgow.