Brussels to battle for France in Brexit fish fight talks

Brussels will battle for French fishermen and their demands for improved access to UK waters in talk in London on Wednesday after the EU threatened Britain with a sausage trade war[1]

EU officials warned they intend to be “firm” in pressing the case for Channel fishing boats in British waters and around Jersey in talks over the implementation of the Brexit treaties and trade deal. 

The European Commission will accuse Britain of not granting enough licences for UK waters. Separately it will allege that Jersey’s government broke the Brexit fishing agreement by introducing new conditions on licences. 

The meetings in London will already take place against the backdrop of strained UK-EU relations. 

The European Commission said on Tuesday[2] that it was prepared to hit the UK with tariffs and risk a trade war if the Government overrode the Brexit treaty to ensure Northern Irish shops could continue selling British chilled meats. 

“The EU will be firm on some of the issues that have arisen in recent months,” an official said, “and specifically, I would say on the question of licences for fishing in waters around Jersey.”

Royal Navy and French ships were dispatched to the port of Jersey’s capital St Helier on May 6[3], which was blockaded by a flotilla of about 60 furious fishermen. 

The stand-off came after a French minister threatened to cut off Jersey’s electricity supply because the government there had introduced new conditions on the granting of fishing licences. 

The row was put on ice until the end of the month, with Jersey agreeing to pause the new restrictions until then.

On Monday night, Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron tried to dampen down tensions. “On fishing, the Prime Minister and President agreed to work together to avoid any further escalation over the issue of fishing access,” a Downing Street spokesperson said. 

“The Prime Minister stressed the importance the UK places on having an agreement which respects our new status as an independent coastal state and works for the UK fishing industry.”

Brussels has backed Paris and said the conditions on where and for how long French fishermen could fish and with what equipment  broke the Brexit fishing agreement. The UK, which is negotiating on the Channel Island’s behalf, contests that. 

Jersey licences come with conditions “at the very last minute”, which “seriously limits” fishing opportunities, the EU official said.  

 “That in turn, endangers the livelihood of a fisherman and his family,” the official said.  Brussels is also unhappy with the number of licences granted to French fishermen to fish UK waters. Under the terms of the Brexit deal on fish, boats that can show historic fishing activity in British waters have a right to continued access. 

However, smaller channel boats do not typically carry the electronic logging equipment needed to prove historic activity. 

“For many of these vessels, given the size of the vessel, the nature of the vessel, there’s only one place where they can fish,” the EU official said, “There’s no alternative place to fish, so the answer should be pretty obvious.”

British negotiators are pushing for a system using internationally agreed ocean zones to make informed decisions over where the smaller boats may have fished in the past. 

The UK and EU reached a deal for total allowable catch of shared stocks of fish earlier this month, which the commission said proved the two sides could find solutions if they worked together.

Details of the fishing agreement for the rest of this year remain secret for now until it is approved by EU governments. 

Fishing industry sources said they were anxious that the agreement would be another sellout[4], after Mr Johnson secured a smaller post-Brexit repatriation of the catch in UK waters than hoped for in the Brexit talks. 

EU officials said the annual agreement set a precedent “from which in principle there should not be too much divergence” and could form the basis for deals over the next few years. 

The Telegraph understands that Brussels will also raise the issue of the detention of EU citizens by the Home Office at the border. 

It accuses the UK of discriminating between EU citizens by targeting some from certain countries, such as Romania, more than others.

EU officials said they had received Home Office guidance to ensure any future detentions were proportionate and justified.