Brexit fishing row: Brussels 'tells Macron to back down on UK threats'

Brussels ‘tells Macron to back down over threats to UK’: Diplomats ‘accuse France of weaponising the EU to further national interests by threatening to cut off British energy in fishing row’

  • Brussels slapped down France in post-Brexit row over fishing rights, sources say 
  • EU Commission told Paris to stop making threats and find an ‘amicable solution’ 
  • Diplomats accused Macron of ‘instrumentalising’ the EU ‘for national interests’  
  • France had been threatening to cut off British energy supplies and hit the UK with trade tariffs as part of a diplomatic ‘retaliation’ to the row 

Brussels has slapped down France in a row over post-Brexit fishing rights – accusing Emmanuel Macron of weaponising the EU for his own interests, sources say. 

France had been urging the EU to cut off Britain’s access to energy markets and impose trade tariffs as part of ‘retaliatory’ measures, after dozens of French fishermen were denied permits to trawl UK waters.

But Brussels sources say the EU Commission, which negotiates on behalf of the bloc, has told France to ‘cool the waters’ and stop making threats so an ‘amicable’ solution can be found.

Emmanuel Macron has been slapped down by Brussels over French threats to UK amidst post-Brexit row over fishing rights, sources say

Paris had been demanding that all licences be restored or else the UK would suffer consequences, with more details to be unveiled later this month.

But the Commission has taken a softer approach and wants to carry out a full investigation into the dispute before deciding whether to react, insiders said.

Diplomats are believed to be negotiating with Britain ‘boat by boat’ to see which ones should be given access. 

Speaking to The Telegraph, one source said: ‘Once again France is instrumentalising the EU for national interests.’

France has accused Britain of violating the post-Brexit trade agreement it signed by denying licences to fishermen who have historically fished in UK waters.

But London says licences have only been denied to boats where skippers were unable to provide evidence of their traditional grounds.

France counters by saying such evidence was not mentioned in the agreement, and that smaller fishing vessels are not fitted with the kind of technology that allows them to prove where they have sailed in the past. 

The issue was behind a standoff in the waters off Jersey earlier this year, when French seas minister Annick Giradin threatened to cut off electricity to the island.

Fighting renewed this week when Britain granted 12 licences to a fleet of 47 boats which had applied to fish an area six to 12 nautical miles off the UK coast.

The issue is particularly important to Emmanuel Macron at the moment because he is heading into an election which he risks losing to challengers from the far-right.

Fishing makes up just a tiny fraction of the economies of both the UK and France, but is seen as a symbolic issue for two nations which once conquered vast parts of the globe thanks to their naval prowess.

France has threatened to push ahead with a package of ‘retaliatory’ measures to be unveiled later this month if the issue is not resolved.

Little is known about measures under consideration, but Jean-Pierre Pont – an MP for Macron’s En Marche party – has suggested it should include a threat to tear up a key migration pact called the Touquet Treaty.

The 2003 deal effectively extended Britain’s border to French soil, allowing it to set up checkpoints so migrants can be stopped before reaching the UK, where they can claim asylum.

Tearing up the agreement would mean substantially more migrants ending up on British shores.

Unless firm action is taken, Mr Pont warned, then furious fishermen will take the law into their own hands by blocking UK ports and the Channel Tunnel.

One MP has suggested tearing up a migration treaty with the UK which means asylum seekers can be stopped on French soil (pictured), unless more licences are granted

Olivier Lepretre, chief of the powerful northern France fisheries committee, said earlier this week: ‘If negotiating fails, we will stop all French and European products reaching the UK, and we will stop all British products reaching Europe.’

‘Unless Boris [Johnson] backs down, the Brits will not have so many nice things to eat this Christmas. I hope it doesn’t come to that.’

On Thursday, he said that London has just ‘two weeks’ to take action or else the blockade would begin.

Britain and France have already clashed in recent months over an Australian submarine deal, the EU’s bid to block life-saving jabs arriving in the UK, and the Northern Ireland protocol.

Former Cabinet minister Theresa Villiers said: ‘This is an unacceptable attempt at bullying. Ministers should stand firm.’

Senior Tory MP David Jones urged Mr Macron to ‘dial down the rhetoric’ adding: ‘Resorting to gangsterism, which is what this effectively is, can never be justified’.

France’s foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said differences with Britain were getting bigger and it was up to London to offer ideas to improve relations. ‘The ball is in their court,’ he added.

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