The UK Foreign Secretary has warned the UK would not “roll over” the dispute with France over fishing rights, as Paris threatened to disrupt the flow of UK exports from Tuesday if an agreement is not reached.
Liz Truss said France’s plan to escalate the dispute was “totally unjustified” and said the UK was ready to use dispute settlement mechanisms under its Brexit trade deal with the EU to resolve the issue.
“The French must withdraw these threats,” Truss told the BBC on Monday as relations between the two countries hit another low. “We’re just not going to turn around in the face of these threats.”
The dispute over the post-Brexit fishing licenses is part of a wider range of grievances brought by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson against French President Emmanuel Macron.
Macron is also furious that the UK is trying to renegotiate the Northern Ireland Protocol, which is part of the UK’s Withdrawal Agreement with the EU, while the problem of migrants crossing the English Channel is another problem.
Tensions over fishing rights have been simmering for months after the UK refused to permit some small French boats to fish in UK waters under the Brexit agreement.
Paris announced on Wednesday that it would tighten customs and hygiene controls on cargo, tighten the entry and exit of trucks in France and prohibit trawlers from landing their catch in French ports if the dispute is not resolved by Tuesday.
“The ball is with Great Britain,” Macron said at a press conference at the G20 summit in Rome. If London does not accept the “de-escalation” proposed by Paris, retaliatory measures will be taken.
Macron, who met Johnson in Rome over the weekend, is suspected in London of fueling the dispute over domestic advantages ahead of next year’s presidential election.
Truss, when asked whether Brexit created the conditions for ongoing diplomatic friction, replied that Britain had excellent relations with countries like the US, Australia and India.
When asked about the ongoing dispute between the UK and the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol, she said: “We don’t want confrontation – we want to reach a constructive agreement that will allow our trade to flow freely.”
Talks between the two sides on improving the way the protocol works will continue this week, with key negotiators on both sides stepping up the rhetoric.
“I am increasingly concerned that the British government will refuse to enter into this and take a path of confrontation,” Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission vice-president in charge of negotiations for the bloc, wrote in the Daily Telegraph.
Some in Brussels fear that after the end of the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow, Johnson will activate the “override” mechanism of Article 16 in the protocol, pushing both sides further towards a trade war.
Lord David Frost, who wrote a foreword to a Policy Exchange paper on the Protocol, claimed the Johnson administration signed the deal with the EU from a position of “extreme weakness.”
“The EU’s insistence on treating these agreements like any other part of its customs and internal market rules, regardless of the enormous political, economic and identity sensitivities involved, demolished inter-community consent well before the four-year deadline. ” he wrote.
He added, “So we need to get back to the protocol and deliver a more robust and balanced result than we did in 2019.”