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Boris Johnson Is "Puzzled" By France Fishing Row As UK Threatens To Disrupt EU Boats

4 min read

The government has warned Brussels that it plans to disrupt European boats fishing in UK waters if France goes ahead with its threats to obstruct British trade.

On Friday Boris Johnson told reporters on the way to the G20 summit in Rome that the UK was ready to "take the appropriate action" in the growing diplomatic row over post-Brexit fishing rights.

The Prime Minister said he was "puzzled" by the row with France, which threatens to overshadow next week's COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow, and warned "we will do whatever is necessary to ensure UK interests".

"Our view is British fisherman should be confident in going about their lawful business wherever that may be, and they should be encouraged to continue fishing in accordance with the agreement we reached under the trade and cooperation agreement," Johnson said. 

"Any infraction of that agreement by any partner, French or others is something we would need to respond to."

However, Johnson insisted that there was no "disharmony" between the UK and France.

"The ties that unite us and that bind us together are far stronger than the turbulence that currently exists in the relationship," he said. 

Earlier in the day Lord Frost, who oversees the UK's post-Brexit relationship with the EU, warned his Brussels counterparts the UKwas prepared to launch legal proceedings against the bloc and impose "rigorous" checks on European boats in its waters if France did not change course.

The spat between the two countries escalated this week when Paris threatened to impose stringent checks goods entering France from the UK and disrupt energy supplies to Jersey over a disagreement about access to British waters for French fishing boats.

France has acused the government of breaching the terms of the UK-EU free trade deal by wrongly turning down applications from French boats to fish in UK waters.

The Macron government has said from 2 November it will stop British boats docking in France, increase checks on UK goods entering the country, and raise energy tariffs on Jersey, a self-governing UK dependency which gets most of its electricity from France, if the UK did not approve more applications from French fishing boats.

In a meeting with European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic today, Frost said the French threats were "unjustified" and would put the whole EU in breach of its post-Brexit trade deal with the UK.

Frost warned Sefcovic that the government was prepared to launch legal proceedings against Brussels and deploy "practical responses" like "implementing rigorous enforcement processes and checks" on EU fishing boats in UK waters.

The cross-channel row causes further complications for the government's stained relationship with the EU, with two sides locked in talks on how to alter the Northern Ireland Protocol.

A UK government spokesperson said "substantial" gaps remained between the two sides' positions, particularly on the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in policing the post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland's relationship with Great Britain.

Johnson, represented on post-Brexit matters by Lord Frost, wants the protocol agreed with Brussels to be scrapped and replaced by a new treaty, with no impediments to trade across the Irish Sea and no role for the ECJ in ruling on disputes that arise.

The Northern Ireland Protocol was agreed by Johnson as part of Brexit talks with the EU to avoid a contentious hard border on the island of Ireland. However, the Prime Minister argues it is leading to an unacceptable level of disruption to business and everyday lives in Northern Ireland.

The UK continually threatens to effectively suspend the Northern Ireland Protocol by triggering a provision in the treaty called Article 16 if the EU does not give in to its demands. Such a move would likely inflame tensions even further and create more uncertainty for Northern Ireland.

Sky News reported on Thursday that a key government committee was in the process of assessing the potential implications of triggering Article 16 in mid-November. 

EU officials who PoliticsHome spoke to said there was a feeling in Brussels that the UK will trigger Article 16 mid next month once the COP climate change summit in Glasgow is over.

A source in Dublin said: "that's certainly what they are signalling in the media and to the Conservative party."

Over half of Northern Irish people (53%) earlier this month told a LucidTalk poll that the UK government would not be justified in triggering Article 16, while 39% said it would.


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