Fishing row: Macron appears to back down as talks set to continue

Boris Johnson greets France's President Emmanuel Macron during arrivals at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow
Boris Johnson greets France's President Emmanuel Macron during arrivals at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow

On Monday night the French president said negotiations must continue

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Emmanuel Macron appears to have backed down on threats to take punitive action against the UK in a dispute over post-Brexit licences to fish in British waters.

The French president warned that Paris could block British boats from landing their catches in French ports and tighten customs checks from midnight in protest at what they claim is a refusal by the UK authorities to grant licences to French boats.

But on Monday night, reports said Mr Macron had said negotiations must continue.

He is reported to have told reporters at the Cop26 summit in Glasgow: “Since this afternoon, discussions have resumed on the basis of a proposal I made to Prime Minister (Boris) Johnson. The talks need to continue.”

“My understanding is that the British were going to come back to us tomorrow with other proposals. All that will be worked on. We’ll see where we are tomorrow at the end of the day, to see if things have really changed,” he is reported to have said.

“My wish is that we can find a way out on all these issues.”

Mr Macron and Mr Johnson met briefly as the French president arrived in Glasgow.

And officials from the two nations were involved in talks convened by the European Commission in Brussels.

Earlier, Downing Street said it had “robust” contingency plans in place if Mr Macron’s government carried out threats to disrupt trade from midnight.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the UK would take legal action under the UK-EU Brexit trade deal, and a tit-for-tat retaliation to French action had not been ruled out.

The UK has granted licences to 98% of EU vessels which have requested permission to operate in British waters.

But the dispute centres on access for small boats, under 12 metres, wishing to fish in the UK six to 12 nautical mile zone.

The government in Paris was angry that the UK originally granted only 12 licences out of 47 bids for smaller vessels, a figure which has now risen to 18.

Only boats which can demonstrate they have fished in UK waters for one day in each of the years between 2012 and 2016 qualify for a licence.

The Elysee Palace had said that without movement from the UK Government, the retaliatory measures would come into force at midnight, the French news agency AFP reported.

A No 10 spokesman told reporters: “As you would expect, we have robust contingency plans in place. I’m not going to get into the detail of them here.

“It is the French that made these threats and we are continuing to call for them to step back from those threats.”

Jersey, which has also been threatened with action by France, has issued 49 temporary licences and 113 permanent licences to French vessels.

The UK is “ready” to continue talks in the fishing row with France after Emmanuel Macron backed down on threats to disrupt trade, the Government has said.

In a statement, a UK Government spokesperson said: “We welcome the French Government’s announcement that they will not go ahead with implementing their proposed measures as planned tomorrow. The UK has set out its position clearly on these measures in recent days.

“As we have said consistently, we are ready to continue intensive discussions on fisheries, including considering any new evidence to support the remaining licence applications.

“We welcome France’s acknowledgement that in-depth discussions are needed to resolve the range of difficulties in the UK/EU relationship.

“Lord Frost has accepted Clement Beaune’s invitation and looks forward to the discussions in Paris on Thursday.”