The UK threatened legal action against France today (November 1) in a dispute over operating licenses in British territorial waters. France has said it will prevent British boats from docking in its ports unless the UK grants additional fishing licenses to French vessels, in line with requirements set out in the post-Brexit trade deal. UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the UK would give France 48 hours before moving forward with further measures.
While the current dispute is over a small number of fishing licenses for boats operating around the British island of Jersey, French officials call it a precedent-setting example of the challenges likely to arise for industries affected by trade disputes. post-Brexit.
How Brexit changed access to fishing waters
While the fishing industry only accounts for around 0.1% of UK GDP, access to territorial waters was a major concern for supporters of Britain’s 2016 referendum to leave the EU. Politicians such as Nigel Farage – who was part of a flotilla alongside Scottish fishermen in the weeks before the vote – argued that the country’s fishing industry had been badly hit by the Common Fisheries Policy of the EU, which has allowed European fishermen to catch and profit from significant shares. of fish from British waters since the 1970s.
At the same time, Britain exports a lot of the fish it catches, so completely losing the EU as a trading partner would be detrimental to the country’s fishermen. After much back and forth in post-Brexit trade talks, the two sides have reached an agreement that promises to transfer 25% of fishing rights for British EU waters to British boats over the next five years. By 2026, it is estimated that the UK fishing industry will earn an additional £145m ($198m) a year from the policy.
But the trade deal, which was signed last December, also requires fishermen to have a license showing they have a history of fishing in UK territorial waters in order to continue to do so from October 30. These licenses would have proved difficult for some French people. boats to get. The UK says it has granted fishing licenses to 98% of EU vessels that have applied for them, but there are nevertheless a handful of French boats off Jersey – a regional fishing committee leader believes the number to 20 or 30 – who did not receive permits.
Fishing in British waters has been profitable for France over the years. A 2020 report from the UK’s Marine Management Organization found that the country’s fishermen on average earned more money than any other EU country from 2016 to 2016, the annual ‘landed value’ of fish caught in UK waters averaging £156 million.
France sees it as an opportunity to make an example of the United Kingdom
With a number of French boats awaiting additional fishing permits, the French government has threatened not only to stop British boats from docking in its waters, but also to stop British trucks from unloading goods at ports. from Calais and Bologna. There is also a threat of limiting electricity to the Channel Islands, which depend on France for its energy supply.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex took the dispute to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on October 28 with a letter saying the disagreement was not just about access to fishing waters. Castex has warned that if the UK remains ‘uncooperative’ on these issues it could ‘set a precedent for the future’, potentially threatening the EU’s credibility and its ability to defend its deal rights. international.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called France’s threats of retaliation “completely unjustified”, while Foreign Secretary Truss suggested a less noble factor could be behind the spat: Face in an election next year, President Emmanuel Macron could likely use the support of the country’s fishermen.