Downing Street today dismissed French claims Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron have struck a deal to resolve the bitter fishing row – insisting Paris must back off threats of retaliation.
The PM and Mr Macron spoke for more than 30 minutes on the margins of the G20 summit in Rome as the spat risks spirally out of control.
There were no officials or cameras present as the pair tried to reach an understanding one-on-one ahead of a deadline of Tuesday for Paris retaliating.
But an extraordinary briefing war broke out afterwards, with the French insisting ‘operational measures’ had been agreed to end the standoff over granting post-Brexit licences for British waters.
That version was rejected by No10, with the PM’s spokesman saying its ‘position has not changed’ and it is a matter for France to decide whether to back off the threats.
‘We certainly stand ready to respond should they proceed with breaking the Brexit agreement,’ the spokesman said.
Paris has threatened border and port sanctions, including increased checks on British vessels, a ‘go-slow’ at customs and increased tariffs on energy bills in Jersey unless more fishing licences are issued by the UK for small French boats by Tuesday.
A French aide told Reuters after thee talks: ‘The goal for both the president and the prime minister was to work towards de-escalation.’
French sources told AFP the two sides agreed ‘operational measures’ to take the heat out of the row in the coming days.
Earlier, they locked eyes as they visited the famous Trevi Fountain with other leaders attending the G20 summit in Rome.
And Mr Macron appeared to shunt Mr Johnson out of the way to get next to Italian host Mario Draghi for photos.
The PM and the French President came face to face as they visited the famous Trevi Fountain in Rome with other leaders at the G20 summit this morning
G20 leaders visited the landmark in Rome on the final day of the G20 gathering
The leaders seemed to be in a jovial mood as the two-day summit wraps up in Rome – with the action moving to Glasgow for COP26
Mr Macron’s attack dog, Europe minister Clement Beaune, stoked the row again this morning saying Britain was not acting like a ‘friend, ally and responsible partner’
Mr Macron and Mr Johnson kept each other close as they braced for difficult talks on fishing
France ‘demands £125,000 for release of British-registered fishing trawler’
French courts have demanded a £125,000 ‘ransom’ for the release of the British fishing trawler impounded in the Le Havre port, it emerged last night.
Scottish-registered the Cornelis Gert Jan is accused of not having a valid licence to fish in French waters.
Its unnamed skipper – believed to be an Irish national – has been charged with ‘acts of unauthorised sea fishing in French maritime salt waters’ and ordered to appear in court next August.
Downing Street said Mr Johnson had raised the ‘unhelpful’ rhetoric from France during the showdown.
Asked if there were any specific measure agreed to deescalate the fishing row, the PM’s spokesman said: ‘No. The deescalation as I say would need to come from the French side.’
Pushed on why the French side were claiming that specific measures had been agreed, the spokesman said: ‘You would have to ask the French government… our position has not changed.’
He added: ‘We stand ready to grant further licences as we have done throughout if the requisite evidence is provided.’
On whether the November 2 deadline was now gone, the spokesman said it was ‘entirely a matter for the French government’.
The spokesman insisted that Mr Johnson had never sought to ‘escalate tensions’. ‘We are simply continuing to enforce the law as set out in the Brexit deal.’
The spokesman said: ‘It will be for the French to decide whether they want to step away from the threats they have made over recent days… of course we would welcome that.’
Mr Macron’s attack dog, Europe minister Clement Beaune, stoked the row again this morning saying Britain was not acting like a ‘friend, ally and responsible partner’.
However, the UK government has insisted licences are being granted where boats can provide evidence they fished in waters before Brexit, with ministers adamant they will not back down.
Mr Beaune tweeted in response to Lord Frost this morning: ‘After 10 months, when such a significant amount of licences, targeting one country, is missing, it’s not a technical issue, it’s a political choice and a breach of the TCA.
‘A friend, ally and responsible partner should stand by its world and comply with legal commitments.’
He said the retaliation measures threatened from November 2 were ‘proportionate’.
‘It’s positive to read that the UK cares about the TCA; France and the EU expect its full respect and implementation, regarding fishing rights, the Northern Ireland protocol and all other – agreed and ratified – matters,’ he said.
Mr Johnson and Mr Macron shared an awkward fist-bump during an encounter on the first day of the summit yesterday.
Downing Street has stressed that the pair are ‘friends’ – but behind the scenes anger is mounting about the grandstanding behaviour from France, with Mr Macron facing a presidential election in the spring.
One senior UK official said: ‘The French have made their position abundantly clear. They are not interested in a positive and constructive relationship, but only in trying to show that Brexit was a mistake.’
Another added: ‘From explicit warnings about stopping energy supply to Jersey to public threats about imposing customs controls unless we comply with their demands, this has been a concerted effort to undermine and now breach the terms of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.’
The has dismissed France’s claim that Britain has not responded to requests to grant more licences is wrong and it has been transparent throughout.
A source said: ‘We’ve been through painstaking discussions on every single French vessel in question, and have acted at all times in accordance with the deal struck with the EU. It’s incredibly disappointing to see France resorting to these threats.’
Emmanuel Macron and Mr Johnson fist bumped despite gearing up for a potential showdown over fisheries
France has threatened border and port sanctions, including increased checks on British vessels, a ‘go-slow’ at customs and increased tariffs on energy bills in Jersey, unless more fishing licences are issued by the UK for small French boats by Tuesday. Pictured: French fisherman in the fishing town of Port En Bessin
Lord Frost yesterday blasted a ‘pattern’ of threats made by France to Britain and said the UK Government is ‘actively considering’ starting legal proceedings against the country.
In a series of tweets, the Conservative peer rallied against comments made by French prime minister Jean Castex in a letter to Ms Von Der Leyen, that the UK should be shown ‘it causes more damage to leave the EU than to stay in’.
Lord Frost said: ‘To see it expressed in this way is clearly very troubling and very problematic in the current context when we are trying to solve many highly sensitive issues, including on the Northern Ireland Protocol.’
Mr Johnson slammed the ‘rhetoric’ coming out of Paris and warned that threats – including a go-slow on goods at Calais and blocking British trawlers from French ports – were ‘completely unjustifiable’ and likely broke international law.
French courts have demanded a £125,000 ‘ransom’ for the release of the British fishing trawler impounded in the Le Havre port, it emerged last night
What is the fishing row between the UK and France about?
– How did Brexit spark the fishing feud?
When the UK left the EU, it also left the common fisheries policy, which since 1970 has allowed the bloc’s members access to all European waters outside the first 12 nautical miles of each country’s coastline.
The Brexit deal outlined how EU boats could continue to fish in UK waters, but British fishermen would get a greater share of the catch from those domestic waters.
Most of the share is being transferred to the UK this year, and there will be annual negotiations to decide how the catch is shared out going forwards.
– Why has this inflamed tensions with France?
The rollout of the post-Brexit arrangements has caused a row, with Paris accusing the UK of failing to grant permission to every eligible French boat to fish in British waters.
But the UK is adamant that it is following the terms of the Brexit deal which requires trawlers to provide historical GPS data to prove they worked in those waters before Brexit.
Some vessels have been unable to provide that data which has seen their applications for a licence be rejected.
The Government has insisted 98 per cent of all EU fishing licence requests have been granted but France believes it is being shortchanged.
– What is France threatening to do?
French ministers have warned they will block British boats from some French ports and tighten checks on vessels travelling between France and the UK if the fishing licence dispute is not resolved by Tuesday next week.
France’s Europe minister, Clement Beaune, told French TV news channel CNews: ‘We have been extremely patient. Our fishermen have been extremely responsible. And so, from November 2, it’s over. We will engage in dialogue if the British want to, but we are taking retaliatory measures.’
– How has the UK responded?
Environment Secretary George Eustice said the French threats risk breaching the terms of the Brexit deal and EU law.
He warned the UK would respond in an ‘appropriate and calibrated’ manner if they were carried out.
The UK Government is calling for ‘calm’, with the Foreign Office summoning the French ambassador to explain the actions taken by Paris.
– Why was the British trawler detained?
The scallop vessel Cornelis was ordered to divert to the port of Le Havre after the French authorities said it was fishing in French waters without a licence.
The French said that another British trawler had been fined for obstruction after refusing to allow police to board to carry out checks.
The owner of the Cornelis, 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.