France to unveil riposte on UK fishing row next week

France will lay out retaliatory measures next week against Britain’s refusal to grant all the fishing licenses sought by French boats as part of a post-Brexit access deal, the maritime minister said Thursday.

Paris officials reacted furiously this week after UK and Jersey authorities issued only a fraction of the permits sought by French fishermen who say their livelihoods are at risk.

“We have a timetable of actions that will be announced early next week… on the European level, the national level, and of course toward the British and also our neighbours in Jersey, which will indeed include retaliatory measures,” Maritime Minister Annick Girardin told Europe 1 radio.

“I hope that the coming two weeks will be focused on this work, which will then be presented directly to the United Kingdom,” she said.

Fishing rights for EU boats in UK waters was a key stumbling block to negotiations for a post-Brexit trade accord between London and Brussels after Britain’s exit from the bloc on January 1, 2021.

But the dispute flared last May when a flotilla of around 50 French trawlers massed in front of the Saint Helier harbour on Jersey, a self-governing Channel territory that depends on Britain for its defence.

The protest sparked a tense standoff that drew in French and British military vessels, with Girardin warning at the time that France would cut off electricity supplies to the island.

Since then French fishermen have applied for the new access licences but complain of onerous paperwork and a requirement to prove they had fished in British and Jersey waters before Brexit, not always an easy task especially for smaller boats.

This week, Britain said it would grant just 12 out of 47 applications for new licences for small EU boats, while Jersey issued 64 full and 31 temporary licences but refused 75 applications.

Girardin warned Thursday that London could be playing hardball on fishing in order to press its demands on other thorny post-Brexit discussions.

“The fear is that fishing is being used to gain ground on other issues, like the migrant crisis,” she said.

Britain and France locked horns earlier this month over reported plans by London to turn back boats carrying migrants across the Channel from France, triggering alarm and anger in Paris.

Britain pays France millions of euros each year to help stop the thousands of people who try to make the perilous crossing.