The government’s decision to reject three quarters of small French fishing boat licence applications has threatened to wage what The Telegraph has dubbed “a fresh Brexit fishing war”.
As part of the Brexit deal, it was agreed that French boats under 12 metres in length would be allowed to fish within the UK’s inshore waters – provided they had a proven record of fishing in those areas and the relevant licence.
However, officials revealed on Tuesday that they plan to grant just 12 out of 47 licences requested by French boats. An additional 40 requests were rejected for not meeting the government’s criteria.
Officials cited “in-depth investigation into data provided by smaller fishing vessels” as a factor in their decision to reject so many requests, the FT reported. One told The Telegraph that the UK had “bent over backwards to be as generous as we could be”.
Guernsey, the other self-governing area of the Channel Islands, is also expected to grant fewer licences than the number France has requested. The news comes just months after a flotilla of French boats gathered off the coast of Jersey to protest at the conditions of the post-Brexit fishing licences, which limited the number of days and the gear permitted for fishing.
Tensions escalated to the extent that Annick Girardin, France’s minister for maritime affairs, warned that Jersey’s electricity supply could be cut off “if we have to”, The Guardian reported.
Eventually the choppy diplomatic waters were calmed, with Britain withdrawing the Royal Navy ships it sent to guard Jersey’s main port – a move that Clement Beaune, the French Europe minister, had described as an attempt to “intimidate” France, said The Times.
Westminster’s decision to reject so many licences was met with fury, with Girardin declaring that “French fishing should not be taken hostage by the British for political ends”. Olivier Le Nezet, the president of the Brittany fishermen’s committee, described the decision as “a declaration of war on the water and on the land”, said The Telegraph.
The UK is now bracing itself for French vengeance. “We will not hesitate to take retaliatory action, collectively,” Beaune told the RTL radio station on Tuesday evening. President Emmanuel Macron’s response is expected to be “particularly severe”, with his eyes on retaining support ahead of the presidential election next April, reported the same paper.
Granting so few French fishing licences will undoubtedly put further strain on Britain’s already fractured relationship with its long-term ally and closest neighbour. Less than two weeks ago, the UK, US and Australia sparked French fury by revealing their Aukus submarine defence deal, a move which led Macron to withdraw his US and Australia-based ambassadors in retaliation.
With the Conservative Party conference looming, reports are suggesting that this latest chapter in the ongoing Brexit fishing war could be an attempt to distract from the chaos of the UK’s fuel crisis. “Ministers may hope it shifts attention back onto Brexit,” said The Telegraph.