France finally releases a seized British trawler. Ministers praised Emmanuel Macron for’stepping back” from his retaliation threats during the bitter fishing row.
George Eustice, Environment Secretary said that Cornelis Gertjan, a scallop vessel, was released after being accused by the Environment Secretary of fishing without a license and being detained at Le Havre.
The apparent move came after Mr Macron stated that he would rather go back to the negotiating table than continue with his extraordinary sabre-rattling.
He has put to rest threats to stop British trawlers catching their catch in French ports and to reduce electricity to Jersey. He also tightened customs checks until at most Thursday.
Despite the truce in hostilities, French fishing chiefs warned trawlermen not to go into British waters in the event of a resurgence.
Mr Eustice told Sky News this morning: ‘We welcome the fact France has stepped back from the threats it was making last Wednesday.
‘We’ve always said we want to de-escalate this and always said we have an ever-open door to discuss any further evidence France or the EU might have on any additional vessels they’d like to have licensed.
‘France has clearly taken a decision not to implement some of the decisions they threatened last Wednesday, we very much welcome that but I think there’s going to be a very important meeting on Thursday between Lord frost and his opposite number, not just on fisheries but a wider range of issues as well.’
At the Cop26 summit yesterday, Boris Johnson and Mr Macron shared a frosty greeting on stage in front of other world leaders
Environment Secretary George Eustice said the scallop vessel Cornelis (pictured) ‘has now been released’ after being accused of fishing without a licence and detained at Le Havre
On the situation with the Cornelis, Mr Eustice said: ‘I understand that vessel has now been released and I think there’s going to need to be some further discussions, clearly there was an administrative error at some point.
‘We haven’t quite got to the bottom of that but that vessel I understand has been released.’
On the surface the UK had refused to budge in the dispute over fishing rights, with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss adamant Britain would ‘not roll over’.
However, there have been gradually more being granted, with UK authorities insisting more evidence has been supplied that they used waters before Brexit.
Mr Macron told reporters at the Cop26 summit in Glasgow last night: ‘It is not while we are negotiating that we are going to impose sanctions.
‘Since this afternoon, discussions have resumed on the basis of a proposal I made to Prime Minister Johnson.
‘The talks need to continue. We’ll see where we are tomorrow at the end of the day, to see if things have really changed. The next few hours are important hours.’ He added: ‘I understood that the British were going to come back to us tomorrow with other proposals.’
France’s Europe minister, Clement Beaune, tweeted late last night that he would hold talks with Brexit minister Lord Frost on Thursday in Paris.
The close ally of Macron said any planned retaliatory measures would ‘not be applied before this meeting’.
France is furious at the UK and Jersey’s decision to turn down applications from a number of French vessels to fish in their waters.
The Elysee Palace had originally stood firm, saying that if Britain refused to give ground on the number of licences it issued to French fishermen, it would implement its threats to British trawlers, to Jersey and on customs checks.
Ms Truss said, should France act, the UK would take legal action under the UK-EU Brexit trade deal, while Downing Street said it had ‘robust’ contingency plans in place.
At the Cop26 summit yesterday, Boris Johnson and Mr Macron shared a frosty greeting on stage in front of other world leaders.
The day before, at a G20 meeting in Rome, Mr Johnson had told the French leader it was up to Paris to step back.
Despite a seeming lull in hostilities, a French fishing chief last night warned trawlermen to stay away from British waters in case the row blows up again.
Olivier Lepretre, chairman of the powerful northern French fisheries committee, said: ‘I fear there might be some tit-for-tat measures. We need an agreement that works for both French and British fishermen.’
Sky News’ Mr Eustice said this morning: “We welcome the fact that France has stepped back form the threats it was making last Wednesday.”‘
Britain claims that it has granted licences in British waters to 98% of EU vessels that requested permission.
But the dispute centres on access for boats of under 12 metres wishing to fish in the UK’s six-to-12-nautical-mile zone.
Paris was upset that the UK initially granted only 12 licences from 47 bids for smaller vessels. This number has since risen.
Yesterday, Ms Truss said to the BBC that she had allocated fishing licenses in accordance with the terms of the trade agreement. The French must withdraw these threats.
“Otherwise we will resort to the EU dispute resolution mechanism to take action.”
A senior source in the UK Government stated last night that: “Our position on fishing licenses remains unchanged.”
“We are in solutions mode, and we want these issues to be resolved consensually.”