Britain must give ground in a post-Brexit fishing dispute or France will trigger trade reprisals, Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday, warning: “The ball is in Britain’s court.”
“I don’t want escalation. We need to be serious,” the French leader told a news conference after the G20 summit in Rome, minutes after Boris Johnson revealed the pair had held a “frank” conversation on the crisis.
French officials have warned they will bar UK fishing boats from some ports and tighten customs checks on lorries entering the country with British goods from Tuesday unless more licences are granted for their small boats to fish in British.
Britain has said the threats represent a breach of post-Brexit agreements and is standing by its threat to launch a legal battle and do “whatever is necessary to ensure UK interests”, Mr Johnson has said.
He told a post-G20 press conference: “I must say I was puzzled to read a letter from the French prime minister explicitly asking for Britain to be punished for leaving the EU. I don’t believe that that is compatible either with the spirit or the letter of the withdrawal agreement or the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.”
The wrangle over fishing access escalated this week after French authorities detained a Scottish-registered scallop dredger, accusing it of fishing without a licence.
The captain of the Cornelis Gert Jan, understood to be an Irish national, has been told to face a court hearing in August next year.
In his comments, Mr Macron said: “We have given the prime minister’s team a document [explaining how to work towards a solution]. Now the ball is in Britain’s court.”
“I don’t want to have to use retalation measures, because that wouldn’t help our fishermen, he said.
“Measures will have to be put in place” if there is no movement.
London is “actively considering” triggering a dispute resolution mechanism in the post-Brexit trade deal that would send the dispute to independent arbitration – and a potential trade war if that fails.
Mr Macron, meanwhile, has appealed to the EU for support, calling the row a test of the UK’s credibility and reliability in the eyes of the world.