Fishing wars escalate into bitter deadlock after Boris Johnson meets Emmanuel Macron

A briefing war has broken out after the two leaders had a half-hour private meeting during the G20 summit in Rome

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Laura Kuennsberg on Macron’s real motives behind fishing war

Britain’s fishing wars with France escalated today as the two sides hit bitter deadlock – hours before a Tuesday deadline.

French sources claimed Emmanuel Macron and Boris Johnson agreed to “work towards de-escalation” in talks at the G20 summit.

After a half-hour meeting with no aides, an Elysee Palace source said: “There is joint work to be done”.

But in an extraordinary slapdown, Downing Street said its position had not changed – and demanded Macron make the first move.

Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said: “It will be for the French to decide whether they want to step away from the threats they’ve made in recent days about breaching the Brexit agreement.

“That will be a matter for them.”

France is threatening to block British boats from its ports and tighten customs checks on lorries from Tuesday if it is not granted more licences to fish in UK waters.

The row escalated last week when a British trawler was detained by French authorities.

G20 leaders including Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron at Rome’s Trevi Fountain this morning


AFP via Getty Images)

Each side has accused the other of breaching the Brexit trade deal and the UK is “actively considering” triggering a legal dispute.

French minister Clement Beaune today repeated the threat to “implement proportionate and reversible measures” from Tuesday – while the meeting between the two leaders was still taking place.

No10 said his warning sounded like a “contradiction” of a statement by Mr Beaune’s own government.

Mr Johnson also complained to Mr Macron about French PM Jean Castex – who urged the EU to show that “leaving the Union is more damaging than remaining in it”.

Downing Street said: “The Prime Minister reiterated his deep concern over the rhetoric emanating from the French government in recent days, including the suggestion by the French prime minister that the UK should be punished for leaving the EU.

“He expressed his hope that the French government would de-escalate this rhetoric and withdraw their threats.”

No10 confirmed the UK still “stands ready to respond” if France “proceed with breaking the Brexit agreement”.

Fishermen stand aboard the British trawler Cornelis-Gert Jan, docked in the northern French port of Le Havre, as it waits to be given permission to leave


AFP via Getty Images)

The UK insisted it was not “targeting” any one country to reject fishing licences.

It said the UK granted 98% of licences to fishermen, who only need to prove they’ve fished in UK waters for one day per year in four out of the last five years.

But Mr Beaune said: “We do not lack just a few licences, but more than 40% of French detailed requests.

“For the EU as a whole, around 90% of the expected licences have been granted, but all the missing ones are French.”

Boris Johnson’s spokesman said: “The position we’re in is that the French government has made a series of threats about what they will do and they have imposed their own deadline.

“It is now up to the French government whether they wish to resile from that position.

“But our stance has not changed, which is that we will continue to work within the realms of the Brexit agreement.”

Asked if the situation was a “briefing war” Boris Johnson’s spokesman replied: “I’ll leave that to you to characterise.”

Earlier Mr Macron had backed into a prime spot between Mr Johnson and his COP26 co-chair, the Italian premier, in a photo opportunity at Rome’s historic Trevi fountain.

The pair spoke little as leaders threw coins over their shoulders into the water.

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