EU Sees U.K. Willingness for a Post-Brexit Fishing-Rights Deal
(Bloomberg) -- The European Union hailed the granting of a new batch of fishing licenses in a post-Brexit dispute that has poisoned Anglo-French relations, saying it sees a shared willingness to work toward an agreement later this month.
Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius told Bloomberg in an interview that with the Channel island of Guernsey granting 40 permanent licenses to EU fishing vessels on Wednesday, almost 95% of all such permits requested by the bloc have been delivered since the beginning of 2021.
“I am glad that in my weekly calls with Secretary of State George Eustice there is a shared willingness and commitment to work towards completing the current process by 10 December this year,” Sinkevicius said. “I am glad that by intensifying discussions we are bringing the current climate of uncertainty to the end.”
Ties between Britain and France have been strained since the U.K. left the bloc, with the allies engaged in disagreements ranging from fishing licenses to trade rules in Northern Ireland. The French government has threatened retaliatory trade action against London over a lack of licenses issued to its boats to fish in British waters.
French fishermen blocked access to ports in northern France last week to try to heap pressure on the U.K. over the issue. They also jammed the ramp leading to the Eurotunnel freight terminal between Britain and France near Calais.
“Every vessel entitled to a fishing license under the terms of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement should receive one,” Sinkevicius said. “Our Agreement with the UK is clear: vessels which were fishing in these waters before should be allowed to continue. Behind every vessel, there is a family, and those peoples’ livelihoods are my priority.”
The EU is now focusing on outstanding license requests in U.K. and Jersey territorial waters, Sinkevicius said. “Many fishermen and women have access only via temporary licenses and simply cannot take any investment decisions,” he said. “Some currently do not have access at all and, in most of the cases, these are small vessels for which it has been extremely difficult to collect the evidence about past fishing activities.”
Clement Beaune, the French minister of state for European Affairs, said earlier this week that France is hoping for progress, especially on Guernsey, as soon as this week in talks to end the spat over fisheries. He told RTL radio that the EU wants a “strong signal” from the U.K., with “many” fish licenses granted by Dec. 10.
If nothing happens by then, Beaune said, France blocking access to its ports for British fishermen could be one “possible” option. French retaliatory measures could include tighter customs checks and increasing energy costs for the British Channel Islands, which are heavily reliant on electricity from France via an undersea cable.
Tensions between the U.K. and the EU over Northern Ireland appear to have calmed in recent weeks, with the U.K. saying it will continue negotiating for as long as talks continue to be constructive. Many in the EU had feared that Britain was going to imminently walk away from the negotiations, which could have precipitated a trade war.
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