UK demands France withdraw ‘unreasonable threats’ within 48 hours

LONDON — France should “back down” within 48 hours from its “unreasonable threats” of retaliation against Britain over a post-Brexit fishing permits row, the U.K.’s foreign secretary said today.

Liz Truss warned the U.K. will not “roll over” in the face of threats from French President Emmanuel Macron to increase border and ports checks and snap tariffs on electricity to the self-governing island of Jersey from Tuesday.

The dispute was triggered by the U.K. and Jersey governments’ decision to request EU fishers to prove a track record of fishing in their waters as a prerequisite for receiving post-Brexit fishing permits. This meant many small French boats that enjoyed access to those waters before Brexit are now at risk of being banned from them.

Following talks with U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the G20 summit in Rome, Macron said the British must now make a “significant move” or France would take measures from Tuesday. Britain has warned it would trigger legal action under the Brexit trade deal if the French go ahead with their threats.

“We are simply not going to roll over in the face of these threats,” Truss told the BBC Radio 4’s Today program. “Those threats are completely unwarranted. We allocated the fishing licenses completely in line with what is in the trade agreement with the EU and the French need to withdraw those threats … The issue needs to be resolved in the next 48 hours.”

Macron insisted Sunday that Britain must give ground in the fishing dispute or France would trigger trade reprisals this week.

“What we decided with PM Johnson is that we would propose a method on what we can in the very short term give in terms of mutual proofs of goodwill and then over several weeks how we can move forward. That’s what I call de-escalation,” Macron told reporters at the G20 summit, adding that he “hoped there would be a positive response” on Monday.

As of Wednesday, Jersey had granted fishing licenses to 162 French boats. Of those, 113 obtained permanent licenses, an increase of two since the row started.

A further 49 vessels were given a temporary license, up by 18. These boats will be allowed to fish in Jersey waters until January 31, 2022, but must use this time to provide the Jersey government with further data to secure a permanent license.

That leaves 55 French boats still waiting for a permit. Since Sunday, these have been unable to fish in Jersey waters.

Jersey’s External Relations Minister Ian Gorst said Monday the French are “just being silly.”

“We’ve really tumbled over ourselves to be as engaging and as reasonable as possible,” he told Sky News. “To hear that tomorrow the French will take countermeasures, it’s extremely frustrating.”

He also criticized the French for their threat to impose tariffs on energy to the Channel Islands. “That’s a private contract, if the French were to take that action, it would be completely unprecedented for a G7 nation to interfere in a private contract for what can only be perceived as purely political ends.”

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