BORIS Johnson will today haul in the French ambassador for a humiliating dressing down after France seized a UK scallop trawler in the Channel.
Owners of the Cornelis Gert Jan said its furious crew were being used as pawns in Brexit fishing tensions.
The vessel was detained overnight at Le Havre after authorities said it was fishing in French waters without a licence.
The move led to an astonishing slanging match, with France’s Europe minister Clement Beaune blasting: “We need to speak the language of force because, unfortunately, that seems to be the only thing this British Government understands.”
Last night Mr Johnson branded the action: “Simply not what we expect from a close ally and partner.”
The PM’s spokesman added: “We regret the confrontational language that has been consistently used by the French government on this issue, which makes this situation no easier to resolve.”
The EU called for calm. But in a dramatic escalation, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said she was summoning ambassador, Catherine Colonna to the Foreign Office “to explain the disappointing and disproportionate threats made against the UK and Channel Islands”.
France was compared to a hostile state over its hardline stance.
In 2019 the Chinese Ambassador was summoned over accusations a Brit was tortured. And Russian president Vladimir Putin’s man in Britain was hauled over the coals after the 2018 poisonings in Salisbury, Wilts.
The Cornelis, a Scots-owned trawler based at Shoreham, West Sussex, was nabbed overnight.
WHY are the French angry?
AROUND 100 small French boats want to fish in the UK and Jersey’s rich coastal waters.
France is furious that skippers who cannot prove a history of operating in the zone six to 12 miles from our shoreline have been refused licences since Brexit.
WHAT are they threatening?
PARIS has said it may disrupt Channel trade at Dover and at sea as well as hike energy supplies for Jersey, which is supplied by an underwater cable from France.
WHAT happens next?
CRISIS talks between Britain, France and the EU Commission over a solution will continue with fresh urgency today. But the Prime Minister is under pressure to send in the Navy.
Its crew were said to be safe and well but furious at the suggestion they were fishing illegally.
They said: “To have armed Navy sailors board a humble British boat in the early hours, and be accused of fishing illegally, is clearly a provocative joke.”
The unnamed skipper is said to have been quizzed for five hours.
It is understood the boat will be released when owner Macduff Shellfish, of Dumfries, Scotland, pays a fine of around £75,000.
The seizure came just hours after France revealed it was preparing to blockade ports and go slow on customs checks until it gets the fishing licences it wants.
Paris is also threatening to hike energy supplies for Jersey, which are delivered by underwater cable.
French ministers have warned they will block British boats from some ports and tighten checks on vessels travelling between France and the UK if the issue is not resolved by Tuesday.
But Britain says the French threats appeared to breach international law and warned the UK would respond in an “appropriate and calibrated” manner if they were carried out.
The UK has approved 15 out of 47 licences so far. It is assessing 15 more, according to EU figures.
Jersey, which controls access to its own waters, has cleared 111 vessels and rejected 75.
Earlier, Mr Beaune told French TV channel CNews: “We have been extremely patient. Our fishermen have been extremely responsible. And so, from November 2 it is over. We will engage in dialogue if the British want to, but we are taking retaliatory measures.”
Macduff Shellfish boss Andrew Brown told The Sun: “Access to French waters for the UK scallop fleet is provided under the Brexit Fisheries Agreement. Macduff’s fishing activity is entirely legal.
“It appears our vessel is another pawn in the ongoing dispute between the UK and France on the implementation of the Brexit Fishing Agreement.
“The crew are in good spirits and will remain on board the vessel until its release. The skipper has left to be interviewed by the French authorities and we ensured he has legal representation throughout.
“We are looking to the Government to defend the rights of the UK fishing fleet. We will vigorously defend ourselves against any vexatious claims. If we are charged then we face around a £75,000 fine but we are working with the Government to sort out the problem. It is clearly political.”
Asked if he thought the French were being petty, Mr Brown said: “It would be dangerous of me to say anything about the French.”
Foreign policy think tank The Henry Jackson Society hit out: “The French threats are more like what we’d expect from Iran rather than one of our closest allies.
“Detaining British fishermen, conducting their lawful business, is an action akin to that of a hostile state.”
France in ‘Nazi’ price hike threat
By TRACEY BOLES
FRANCE risked reigniting comparisons with the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands as it threatened to hike charges for electricity amid the row over fishing.
Hardline French minister Clement Beaune said in an interview: “I worry this UK government only understands force.” And he added. “It’s time to get respected.”
In May, when the row over fishing rights first blew up, a UK Government source was quoted as saying: “At least when the Germans invaded, they kept the lights on.”
They were referring to the five years of Nazi occupation of Jersey and Guernsey during the Second World War.
Three undersea cables from France now provide Jersey with 95 per cent of its electricity. With Britain in the midst of an energy crunch, the threat to charge more is particularly incendiary.
But it is unclear whether France could carry through on it. The Brexit accord grants the UK — an importer of nuclear-powered electricity from France — access to the EU’s power grid until 2026.