If France follows through on its promise to tighten customs inspections over a disagreement over fishing licenses, the UK government said it was “actively exploring” legal action under the Brexit accord. The UK is “actively contemplating commencing dispute settlement proceedings” over the fishing conflict, according to Brexit minister David Frost, who also urged the EU and France to “pull back from rhetoric and actions that make this more difficult.”
The French government has stated that it is still awaiting a number of fishing licenses, accusing London of violating the Brexit agreement, which stated that fishermen may continue to fish in British seas if they secured a license and verified that they had previously done so. From November 2, France has promised to intensify customs procedures on goods crossing the Channel, including a ban on British fishing vessels entering ports and extra checks on lorries, potentially slowing trade.
They also threatened to impose restrictions on electricity supplies to the Channel Islands, which are British Crown possessions off the coast of France and rely significantly on French power. On Saturday, the back-and-forth between the two countries heated up, with Frost tweeting that “recent French rhetoric and threats” might be a “breach by the EU of its Treaty responsibilities.”
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson admitted to the BBC that there was “some turbulence in the relationship” with France, but insisted that the issue was “dwarfed” by the agenda that unites the countries. Earlier in the day, French President Emmanuel Macron was quoted as saying that the UK’s “credibility” was at stake.
“Make no mistake, it is not just for the Europeans but all of their partners. Because 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,” Macron said in an interview with the Financial Times, the newspaper reported.
Macron said he was sure that Britain has the “good will” to solve the dispute. “We need to respect each other and respect the word that has been given,” he said, according to the FT. In a letter to the European Commission that was leaked to the press, French Prime Minister Jean Castex reportedly appealed to the EU to back France in the dispute, saying they should show that “leaving the Union is more damaging than remaining in it.”
Frost called Castex’s comments “troubling” and accused France of a pattern of threats “to our fishing industry, to energy supplies, and to future cooperation.”Macron and Johnson are set to meet on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Rome this weekend.
While travelling to the summit, Johnson attempted to calm the waters over the dispute, calling France “one of our best, oldest, closest allies, friends and partners”. Calling Macron a “friend,” Johnson said some people in both countries may be trying to stir up disharmony between the UK and France, but “I don’t think Emmanuel shares that perspective.”
But he also reiterated Britain’s willingness to respond to any violations of its divorce deal with the EU. The UK summoned the French ambassador to voice its displeasure after French authorities fined two British fishing vessels earlier in the week.