Macron tells Johnson ball is in UK's court to resolve Brexit fishing row

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron look on in front of the Trevi Fountain during the G20 summit in Rome, Italy, October 31, 2021. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron look on in front of the Trevi Fountain during the G20 summit in Rome, Italy, October 31, 2021. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

Paris has issued a 24 hour deadline to resolve the row - otherwise France will impose more stringent port and border checks from Tuesday

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French President Emmanuel Macron has told Boris Johnson that the ball is in his court to resolve the Channel fishing row, with less than 24 hours left to find a solution.

After a 30-minute meeting with the Prime Minister at the G20 summit in Rome where they discussed the fishing licences row, Mr Macron said that unless Britain made a “significant move”, Paris would introduce more stringent port and border checks from Tuesday.

French officials have warned they will bar UK fishing boats from some ports and tighten customs checks on lorries entering the country unless more licences are granted for their small boats to fish in Britain’s waters.

Mr Macron’s comments are likely to only heighten tensions as both leaders prepare to take part in the UN Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow on Monday, with fears on the UK side that the row has overshadowed the build-up to the crucial summit.

Fishing boats moored in the port of Boulogne, France. Environment Secretary George Eustice has warned France the UK could retaliate if it goes ahead with threats in the fishing row, warning that "two can play at that game". Picture date: Friday October 29, 2021.
Fishing boats moored in the port of Boulogne, France. Environment Secretary George Eustice has warned France the UK could retaliate if it goes ahead with threats in the fishing row, warning that "two can play at that game". Picture date: Friday October 29, 2021.

The Prime Minister has warned France that he considers its stance against the UK to be in contravention to both the spirit and the letter of the Brexit trade deal with the European Union.

His comments come on the back of ministers declaring that they are “actively considering” triggering the disputes mechanism under the terms of the Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) if Paris does not back down.

In a post-G20 press briefing, Mr Macron told reporters: “The ball is now in their court.

“If the British don’t do any significant move, measures starting from November 2 will need to be implemented.

“I would deplore it. But what we cannot do is not respond and not defend our fishermen.”

The Channel dispute appeared to deepen after a letter from French prime minister Jean Castex to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, in which he said the UK should be shown “it causes more damage to leave the EU than to stay in”, was leaked over the weekend.

Mr Johnson admitted he was “puzzled” by the letter when he briefed reporters after the G20 talks.

Speaking at a press conference in the Italian capital, he said: “I must say I was puzzled to read a letter from the French prime minister explicitly asking for Britain to be punished for leaving the EU.

“I just have to say to everybody I don’t believe that that is compatible either with the spirit or the letter of the Withdrawal Agreement or the Trade and Co-operation Agreement.”

There were conflicting accounts of the meeting between the two leaders in Rome on Sunday, with Downing Street denying the pair reached an agreement to de-escalate their increasingly bitter feud.

French officials were reported as saying they had agreed to try to resolve their differences but, in a briefing for British journalists, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman made clear the UK did not recognise the claims.

“I have seen the same reporting,” the spokesman said.

“It will be for the French to decide if they want to step away from the threats they have made in recent days about breaching the Brexit (trade) agreement,” the spokesman said.

It came as a French minister accused Britain of making a “political choice” to bar “more than 40%” of French boats from UK and Channel Islands’ waters after rejecting their applications.

Clement Beaune, France’s secretary of state for European affairs, said the “proportionate and reversible measures” proposed by his country were “fully in line with the TCA”.

Lobsters are processed at the fishing port at Bridlington Harbour in Yorkshire, after European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said she and Boris Johnson had agreed to go the extra mile and continue negotiations on a post-Brexit trade deal.
Lobsters are processed at the fishing port at Bridlington Harbour in Yorkshire, after European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said she and Boris Johnson had agreed to go the extra mile and continue negotiations on a post-Brexit trade deal.

Meanwhile, discussions are due to continue in Brussels between UK and EU teams this week as they aim to find a solution to the disruption being caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol, designed as part of the Brexit deal to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

Brexit minister Lord Frost and European Commission vice-president Marcos Sefcovic are due to meet face-to-face on Friday to check-in on what progress has been made, with the politicians likely to discuss fishing once again.

Mr Sefcovic, writing in the Daily Telegraph, said he feared Britain was embarking on a “path of confrontation” in its refusal to back down on its stance that the European Court of Justice should not have an arbitration role in the protocol.

He said the EU had “gone the extra mile” with its own reform proposals but that the bloc had “limits”.