France Says U.K. Fishing License Refusals Breach Brexit Deal
(Bloomberg) -- France warned that the U.K. is in breach of the Brexit deal after it denied several small European Union fishing boats access to its territorial waters, ratcheting up diplomatic tensions between the two countries.
“It’s a new refusal by the British to implement the conditions of the Brexit agreement despite all the work we have done together,” France’s sea minister Annick Girardin said in a statement late on Tuesday. “French fishing should not be taken hostage by the British for political reasons.”
The U.K.’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said earlier that out of 47 applications to fish in British waters made by small vessels, 12 licenses have been granted. The other licenses weren’t granted because the boats weren’t able to show sufficient evidence of having fished in the waters historically, the department said.
The U.K. decision is inflaming one of the most contentious and emotive elements of the post-Brexit relationship, and risks making market access for financial services even trickier -- France has previously threatened to block regulations that would allow U.K. financial firms to do business in the EU if the country doesn’t respect its Brexit commitments on fishing.
Earlier this year, Britain and France deployed warships to the isle of Jersey amid protests about curtailing the ability of French boats to fish in British seas.
The latest licenses granted are for fishing in the zone 6 miles to 12 miles from the coast of the U.K. Since Brexit, about 1,700 EU vessels have been given licenses to fish in the zone 12 miles to 200 miles from the U.K. coast, DEFRA said.
DEFRA said there were also 37 applications for licenses from replacement vessels -- the U.K. is still reviewing these -- and three licenses that came under an exceptional category.
Fishermen have been complaining that the U.K. administration has been dragging its feet on licenses for replacement boats.
French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday after the weekly cabinet meeting that “the U.K.’s decisions aren’t acceptable.” He added that Girardin is set to meet members of the local fishing industry later in the day.
Separately, the Jersey government said Wednesday it had turned down 75 out of 170 applications from French fishing vessels to fish in its waters. Boats not given licenses will have a 30-day notice period before they must stop fishing, Jersey said.
Government officials in Jersey are on standby for further protests by French fishermen, according to Ian Gorst, the island’s external relations minister.
“Tensions are running high,” Gorst said by telephone. “But we wouldn’t expect a similar situation to the one we had earlier. It’s very much now a technical issue.”
Fishing was one of the most hotly contested issues in the negotiations over Britain’s divorce from the EU, as countries such as Ireland, France and Spain pushed to protect jobs in their coastal communities while Britain sought to regain control of its territorial waters.
“Our approach has been reasonable and fully in line with our commitments in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement,” DEFRA said in a statement. “We continue to work with the Commission and the French authorities and will consider any further evidence provided to support the remaining license applications.”
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