Johnson Says U.K. Has ‘Bigger Fish to Fry’ in France Spat
(Bloomberg) -- Boris Johnson said he’s not worried about the increasingly bitter dispute between Britain and France over post-Brexit fishing access, and that he’ll seek to defuse tensions by emphasizing the strength of the alliance when he meets French President Emmanuel Macron this weekend.
“There are bigger fish to fry. Everybody knows that,” Johnson told reporters on the plane to Rome for the Group of 20 summit. “What we have between us that unites us is far stronger than what divides us.”
Fishing rights have become a major flash point in the relationship after Brexit, and have raised the risk of a broader trade war. France argues that its vessels are being wrongly denied licenses to fish in British waters, and this week threatened to blockade U.K. trawlers and raise energy prices in the British Channel Islands in retaliation.
In an escalation of tensions earlier this week, French authorities seized a British trawler near Le Havre for not having a permit.
The U.K. summoned the French ambassador and said Friday it would respond with more rigorous checks on fishing activity in its waters if France followed through on its threats, calling them “disappointing and disproportionate.”
In a statement after their meeting, Britain’s foreign ministry said officials expressed concern over France’s “unjustified measures” and that the U.K. would “consider taking further action as necessary, including the possibility of launching dispute settlement proceedings.”
But Johnson struck a more conciliatory tone, telling reporters that while Britain will take “appropriate action” and “do whatever is necessary to ensure U.K. interests,” he is “not at all” worried about the situation. Macron is a “friend I have known for many years,” he said.
“There may be people on either side of the Channel who may think they have an interest in somehow promoting disharmony between the U.K. and France, promoting the impression of disharmony,” he said. “I don’t think Emmanuel shares that perspective personally at all. I will be making that point.”
The two sides will continue talks through the weekend, officials said. Johnson and Macron are due to speak on Sunday, according to the president’s office.
The U.K. is also in negotiations with the EU over amending the Northern Ireland protocol of the Brexit divorce deal, saying that the current arrangement disrupts trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.
U.K. Brexit minister David Frost and European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic met in London Friday, and talks between the two sides will continue next week, with Frost traveling to Brussels on Nov. 5.
Asked if Britain plans to unilaterally suspend the part of the Brexit agreement concerning Northern Ireland once the global climate change talks he hosts are finished next month, Johnson replied that he’s “not convinced” that the EU’s current proposals will fix the problem.
Britain has long argued that the conditions have been met for it to suspend the agreement, which is allowed under the deal’s terms but would likely trigger retaliation from the EU.
“We will have to take the steps that are necessary to protect the territorial integrity of the U.K. and the U.K.’s internal market,” he said.
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