France release British trawler seized off coast of Le Havre as Paris backs down from fishing threats

British fishing trawler Cornelis Gert Jan is pictured at sea near Stellendam, Netherlands March 8, 2021 in this social media image taken with a drone.
British fishing trawler Cornelis Gert Jan is pictured at sea near Stellendam, Netherlands March 8, 2021 in this social media image taken with a drone.

Environment Secretary George Eustice welcomed the move, as Macron appeared to back down from threats made against Britain

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France has freed a British trawler scallop dredger which was seized off waters near Le Havre, as the row over fishing looks to de-escalate.

Environment Secretary George Eustice welcomed the release of British scallop dredger Cornelis Gert Jan, which was seized by French authorities last week.

Asked whether the vessel had been released, Mr Eustice said: "Yes. I understand that that vessel has now been released."

"It's a decision by the French to step back from the threats they made. We welcome that."

France detained the vessel last week when it was fishing in French waters. Tensions between the two nations appear to have eased after Emmanuel Macron 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.

The French president 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.”

A British trawler Cornelis Gert Jan is seen moored in the port of Le Havre after France seized on Thursday a British trawler fishing in its territorial waters without a licence, in Le Havre, France, October 28, 2021. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier
A British trawler Cornelis Gert Jan is seen moored in the port of Le Havre after France seized on Thursday a British trawler fishing in its territorial waters without a licence, in Le Havre, France, October 28, 2021. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

“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.

Boris Johnson calls for cooler heads to prevail amid France-UK fishing row

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.