By Richard Lough
PARIS -A day ahead of a European deadline, France said it was still waiting for Britain to approve nearly 100 licences for its fishermen to operate in UK territorial waters and off Jersey and that last-gasp negotiations were ongoing.
Fishing rights plagued Brexit talks for years and continue to poison relations between Britain and France, not because of their economic importance but because of their political resonance for both sides.
Britain and the EU agreed to set up a licensing system to grant fishing vessels access to each other’s waters when Britain left the bloc. But France says it has not been given the full number it is due, while Britain says only those lacking the correct documentation have not been granted.
Annick Girardin, France’s seas minister, said her government would fight for each licence.
“Nobody should be left stranded on the dock,” she told senators.
However Girardin rowed back on past threats of retaliation by the French government and said any reprisal acts would be taken at a European level depending on Britain’s position on Friday. This is the deadline set by the European Commission for London to accept or reject the pending license requests.
She said that if the deadlock persisted, France would urge the commission to take the matter for arbitration by a committee of British and European representatives that oversees the implementation of the Brexit trade agreement.
If that failed, France would push for the commission to launch litigation proceedings, a move the minister said would take time.
Girardin said 53 of the missing licences were to fish in the water 6-12 miles off Britain’s shores, most of which were sought by boats that had replaced older vessels and that Britain says cannot prove a history of fishing in its waters.
Paris has accused London repeatedly of acting in bad faith and failing to honour the post-Brexit trade deal. Britain says it is respecting the post-Brexit arrangements.
Last month, French fishermen temporarily blockaded the port of Calais and Channel Tunnel rail link in an effort to disrupt trade between Britain and the continent.