France to ask EU to begin legal action against UK over fishing licences

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France will ask the European Commission to start legal action against the United Kingdom over post-Brexit fishing licences, the government announced on Friday.

“We will ask the European Commission in the next few days to initiate a dispute, a legal procedure for the licences to which we are entitled,” Clément Beaune, France’s Secretary of State for European Affairs, said following a meeting between French fishermen, elected representatives of the regions concerned and President Emmanuel Macron.

Convening the Partnership Council — an EU-UK Joint Committee intended for any issue relating to the implementation of the Brexit agreement — aimed “to tell the British that this is a European problem, that they are not respecting the agreement 100% and that we must therefore continue to exert political pressure.”

Paris threatened litigation last week, calling on the UK to issue licences to the 100 applications still pending ahead of a European Commission deadline on December 10.

Officials announced over the weekend that London had granted an additional 23 licences to French fishing vessels, with licences for 7 additional vessels being reviewed.

The 23 licences included 18 from the UK to replacement vessels and five from the Channel island of Jersey.

Under the Brexit trade deal concluded just before Christmas 2020, EU fishing boats can continue to fish in British waters if they obtain a licence.

But they need to prove that they previously were fishing there — a requirement that smaller French boats, lacking the appropriate technology, have found difficult to fulfil. Many have failed to secure licences from authorities in the UK or Jersey.

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France argues the boats are well known to the British authorities and their past records are common knowledge, although some French commentators question their strict rights under the letter of the law.

Paris also said that British authorities had refused to grant licences to replacement vessels.

Minister for the Sea, Annick Girardin, said the government will continue to discuss with London and the Channel Islands authorities “to try to obtain” the authorisations, “licence by licence”.

Noting that some fishermen will not have permission to work in British waters, the ministers reaffirmed that no one would be left by the wayside, now raising the issue of compensation.

“The President would like us to be precise about the plan to support fishermen (who will not have had licences), and to work on a case-by-case basis, basin by basin,” Girardin said.

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