France will take “retaliatory” measures within eight days if the UK does not grant more licences to French fishermen, the government has warned.
Secretary of State for European Affairs Clément Beaune told senators on Wednesday evening that “in the next eight days or so, we will announce response measures, retaliation measures, if necessary, national or European, if we do not have concrete British signals on the issue of licences”.
France is threatening to cut electricity supplies to Jersey — an autonomous dependency of the British Crown — and to take action in the financial services and research sectors.
“We have been very patient, too patient (…) The British do not want to give a certain number of licences not because they lack information but because they have made this political choice,” Beaune added.
The post-Brexit agreement, reached in extremis at the end of last year between London and Brussels, provides that European fishermen can continue to work in certain British waters on condition that they obtain a licence, granted if they can prove that they were fishing there before. But the French and British are arguing over the nature and extent of the evidence required.
In the fishing zones that are still disputed (the 6-12 mile zone off the British coast and the Channel Islands), London and Jersey have granted a total of just over 200 definitive licences, while Paris is still demanding 244.
“This is not a French problem (…) It is a European problem,” Beaune insisted, pointing out that Belgium and Ireland were also concerned. “We are mobilising our European partners,” he added.
Eleven member states — Belgium, Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden — called for a European front against London over fishing licences and signed a joint declaration on Monday criticising the UK’s response.
“We note in particular that the UK requires proof of geolocation for vessels under 12 metres, whereas such proof is not provided for in the TCA [EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement] and fishermen are not required to do so under EU rules,” they wrote.
“The fleets concerned are mainly small-scale fishing fleets, dependent on narrow maritime zones with no possibility of transferring their activity, and these failures are likely to cause significant economic and social damage to the communities which depend on them,” they added.