Britain told France on Monday that it must backtrack within 48 hours in a fishing line that threatens to escalate into a broader trade dispute or face tortuous legal action under the Brexit trade deal.
France says Britain has refused to grant its fishermen the correct number of licenses to operate in British waters and has said it could impose specific measures from Tuesday, including tightening some controls on trucks moving between the neighbors.
Britain says it is issuing licenses to vessels that can show that they have fished previously in UK waters.
The dispute escalated last week when the French seized a British dredger, the Cornelis Gert Jan, in French waters near Le Havre, saying it did not have the required licenses, although the ship’s owner said he had all the appropriate documents.
“The French have made completely unreasonable threats, including to the Channel Islands and our fishing industry, and they must withdraw those threats or else we will use the mechanisms of our trade agreement with the EU to take action,” said the foreign secretary. Liz Truss. he told Sky News.
“The French have behaved unfairly. It is not within the terms of the trade agreement. And if someone misbehaves in a trade deal, you have the right to take action against them and seek some countermeasures. And that’s what we’ll do if the French don’t back down, ”Truss said.
When asked on what time frame France should roll back, Truss said: “This issue must be resolved within the next 48 hours.”
The dispute also runs the risk of being a distraction at the COP26 climate summit that began in Scotland on Sunday.
Paris has said it could ban British fishing boats from landing in French ports, carry out additional checks on British vessel licenses, tighten controls on trucks and tighten customs and hygiene checks if talks fail.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday that he had been “perplexed” reading a letter from Paris to the European Union. Sent by the French Prime Minister, Jean Castex, he asked the bloc to show that there was “more harm in leaving the EU than in staying there.”
The fisheries issue haunted Brexit talks for years, not because of its economic importance but because of its political importance. If not resolved, it could trigger the start of dispute measures in the Brexit trade deal as early as this week.
When asked why the fisheries issue, a long-standing source of contention between France and Britain, had once again deteriorated ties, Truss suggested it might have something to do with next year’s presidential election in France.