Boris Johnson vows 'appropriate action' after France charges UK trawlerman amid retaliation threat
ITV News Correspondent Rupert Evelyn explains what the row is about and how it's escalated in recent days
Boris Johnson has promised to take "appropriate action" against France in retaliation for threats made over the recent post-Brexit fishing rights row.The dispute escalated on Friday after the skipper of the seized Scottish scallop trawler was charged by French authorities.
It comes amid a war of words between the UK and France following Brexit, with the EU nation threatening to block British boats from some of its ports in response to dozens of French fishing boats having licence bids to fish around Jersey rejected.
The Prime Minister said he was “puzzled about what is going on” and claimed Paris’s behaviour could be in contravention of the UK’s Brexit deal with the European Union.
Speaking to reporters on the flight to the G20 in Rome, Boris Johnson urged British fishermen to “be confident about going about their lawful business” as he promised action against any infringement.
ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston reports live from Rome the latest diplomatic moves from both sides to resolve the crisis
The PM said: “We fear there may be a breach of the terms of the Trade and Co-operation Agreement implicit in what’s happening… and obviously we will stand by to take the appropriate action.
“We will do whatever is necessary to ensure UK interests."
Meanwhile French president Emmanuel Macron appeared to suggest the UK has not kept its Brexit pledges.
In an interview with the Financial Times, French leader Mr Macron said the UK’s “credibility” was at stake over the dispute in what will be seen as a reference to the handling of post-Brexit fishing licences.
He told the newspaper: “When you spend years negotiating a treaty and then a few months later you do the opposite of what was decided on the aspects that suit you the least, it is not a big sign of your credibility.”
On Friday, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss took the rare step of ordering an allied nation’s envoy to be summoned as she called Catherine Colonna, French ambassador to the UK, to the Foreign Office.
Ms Colonna’s conversation with Europe minister Wendy Morton lasted less than 15 minutes
Why are tensions escalating?
The Cornelis Gert Jan vessel was seized by French authorities on Thursday for allegedly not having a licence to fish in French waters.
The government has insisted the seized fishing vessel did have its licence granted by the European Union, and defended the UK decision to reject applications by French boats, saying they were ineligible for a licence to use British waters.
France says the rejection of licences is a breach of arrangements agreed in the Brexit deal signed with the EU.
What needs to happen to resolve the issue?
A source close to the seized vessel has told ITV News that the situation could still be resolved if the UK's Marine Management Organisation can explain to French authorities why the licence doesn’t appear on the list.
The boat's skipper will appear in court in Le Havre in August 2022 if an explanation is not provided.
The trawler will only be allowed to leave France if the issue around its paperwork is resolved, or if a bond is paid allowing the vessel to depart.
A UK government spokesperson said: “The vessel concerned remains in port, having been detained by the French authorities.
“We stand ready to provide consular assistance to the British crew members if required and we continue to monitor situation closely."
Mr Eustice did not rule out blocking French vessels from landing their catches in the UK in retaliation and has suggested French President Emmanuel Macron facing a difficult re-election challenge may be a “factor” in the dispute.
Asked about the claim by France’s Europe minister Clement Beaune that the only language Britain understands is “the language of force”, he told BBC Breakfast: “That is completely inflammatory and is the wrong way to go about things. “We will see what they do on Tuesday but we reserve the right to respond in a proportionate way."
If a trade war emerges from the fishing dispute it will signal just how low relations between the two neighbouring countries have sunk since the UK voted to leave the European Union in 2016.
The owner of the Cornelis Gert, Macduff Shellfish, said the vessel had been fishing legally in French waters and called on the British government to protect the rights of British fishermen.
Rupert Evelyn on why the row may get worse before it gets better
ITV News West of England Correspondent Rupert Evelyn understands the skipper of the Cornelis has shown his licence to fish in French waters, which has satisfied local authorities.
But due to an apparent administrative error at the government's Marine Management Organisation- which manages English fishing capacity- the vessel is still being held in France.
French maritime minister Annick Girardin told French radio news programme RTL Matin that Britain’s “failure to comply” with the UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement is “unacceptable”.
“It’s not war, it’s a fight. We have fishing rights, we must defend them and we will defend them,” she said.