Britain’s bitter fishing dispute with France deepened last night after it was claimed the French were ‘only interested in trying to show that Brexit was a mistake’.
Boris Johnson went on the offensive in the row over rights as he warned the EU not to side with France and Brexit minister Lord Frost threatened to take legal action.
It comes as the Prime Minister had an awkward encounter on the world stage with President Emmanuel Macron, sharing a fist-bump ahead of what are expected to be very scratchy talks later today.
France has threatened border and port sanctions, including increased checks on British vessels, a ‘go-slow’ at customs and increased tariffs on energy bills in Jersey, unless more fishing licences are issued by the UK for small French boats by Tuesday – but the Government showed little appetite for backing down.
One senior UK official said: ‘The French have made their position abundantly clear. They are not interested in a positive and constructive relationship, but only in trying to show that Brexit was a mistake.’
Another added: ‘From explicit warnings about stopping energy supply to Jersey to public threats about imposing customs controls unless we comply with their demands, this has been a concerted effort to undermine and now breach the terms of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.’
The Government insists that France’s claim that Britain has not responded to requests to grant more licences is wrong and it has been transparent throughout.
A source said: ‘We’ve been through painstaking discussions on every single French vessel in question, and have acted at all times in accordance with the deal struck with the EU. It’s incredibly disappointing to see France resorting to these threats.’
But Mr Macron’s Europe Minister Clement Beaune said that unless the UK made ‘significant’ concession on licences for French fishermen, France would respond with ‘proportionate measures’, potentially including a blockade at French ports.
Lord Frost yesterday blasted a ‘pattern’ of threats made by France to Britain and said the UK Government is ‘actively considering’ starting legal proceedings against the country.
In a series of tweets, the Conservative peer rallied against comments made by French prime minister Jean Castex in a letter to Ms Von Der Leyen, that the UK should be shown ‘it causes more damage to leave the EU than to stay in’.
Lord Frost said: ‘To see it expressed in this way is clearly very troubling and very problematic in the current context when we are trying to solve many highly sensitive issues, including on the Northern Ireland Protocol.’
Mr Johnson slammed the ‘rhetoric’ coming out of Paris and warned that threats – including a go-slow on goods at Calais and blocking British trawlers from French ports – were ‘completely unjustifiable’ and likely broke international law.
Britain’s bitter fishing dispute with France deepened last night after it was claimed the French were ‘only interested in trying to show that Brexit was a mistake’. Pictured: Boris Johnson takes up his position just behind France’s Emmanuel Macron and next to EU commission chief Ursula Von Der Leyen
Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron put on a show as G20 leaders posed for their family photo at a Rome summit today
France has threatened border and port sanctions, including increased checks on British vessels, a ‘go-slow’ at customs and increased tariffs on energy bills in Jersey, unless more fishing licences are issued by the UK for small French boats by Tuesday. Pictured: French fisherman in the fishing town of Port En Bessin
Emmanuel Macron and Mr Johnson fist bumped despite gearing up for a potential showdown over fisheries
Mr Johnson seemed to be having a more taxing time at the summit centre today as he talked to other leaders
Mr Johnson and Mr Macron shared a toe-curling fist-pump as they lined up next to each other for the ‘family photo’ at the summit yesterday afternoon.
No10 has insisted they are ‘friends’ despite the mounting sabre-rattling – which comes months before a tough French presidential election.
But the pair are expected to have a scratchy exchange over the issues during a one-on-one meeting today.
A Downing Street readout of the discussion with Ms Von Der Leyen said: ‘The Prime Minister also raised his concerns about the rhetoric from the French Government in recent days over the issue of fishing licences.
‘The Prime Minster stressed that the French threats are completely unjustified and do not appear to be compatible with the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement or wider international law.
‘The Prime Minister reiterated that the UK has granted 98 per cent of licence applications from EU vessels to fish in the UK’s waters and is happy to consider any further evidence for the remaining two per cent.’
Paris has so far threatened to increase checks on British boats, initiate a ‘go-slow’ strategy with Calais customs arrangements, and increase tariffs on energy bills in Jersey.
They are demanding that Britain grants more licences to French fishermen to access British waters – and have tried to rope in the EU to the battle with PM Mr Castex. Ms Von Der Leyen is also at the summit this weekend.
Lord Frost today slammed the ‘pattern’ of threats coming from France. He added: ‘The threats made by France this week to our fishing industry, to energy supplies, and to future co-operation, for example through the Horizon research programme, unfortunately form part of a pattern that has persisted for much of this year.’
‘As I set out yesterday to (European Commission vice-president) Maros Sefcovic), these threats, if implemented on November 2, would put the EU in breach of its obligations under our trade agreement. So we are actively considering launching dispute settlement proceedings as set out in Article 738 of the TCA.’
In a round of broadcast interviews this morning, Mr Johnson warned that the UK could trigger the dispute mechanism in the post-Brexit trade agreement as soon as next week.
But the chief of Calais port cautioned that Britain faces ‘disaster’ if Mr Macron follows through on a threat to block British trawlers from French ports.
Asked about the situation this morning, Mr Johnson said: ‘We are very keen to work with our friends and partners on all these issues. If another European country wants to break the TCA – the Trade and Co-operation agreement – then obviously we will have to take steps to protect UK interests.
‘If there is a breach of the treaty or we think there is a breach of the treaty then we will do what is necessary to protect British interests.’
Mr Johnson and Mr Macron are holding talks about the Iran nuclear programme along with Joe Biden and Angela Merkel in Rome this afternoon – and will meet one-on-one at the summit today.
The captain leaves the scallop trawler Cornelis-Gert Jan with his lawyer. The boat has been impounded by the French Gendarmerie Maritime for illegally fishing in the Bay of the Seine
French fisherman in the French fishing town of Port En Bessin, Northern France. After France called on Brussels to punish the UK for Brexit by retaliating in the dispute over granting fishing licences for British waters, Mr Johnson slammed the ‘rhetoric’ coming out of Paris
Mr Johnson also joked around with US president Joe Biden at the summit in Rome this afternoon
Mr Biden and Mr Johnson appeared to have dropped something at one point during their chat
G20 state leaders pose during a photograph session at the start of the G20 summit in Rome
Mrs Johnson is pictured arriving for the first day of the G20 summit, as spouses of the world leaders headed inside
Mr Johnson poses with Ms Ursula von der Leyen prior to a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome
Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen laughed ahead of a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 on Saturday
Mr Johnson, Mr Macron, German outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Joe Biden pose within a meeting about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the sidelines of the G20
France’s ambassador to London Catherine Colonna was hauled in by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss yesterday to face questioning and ‘explain the disappointing and disproportionate threats made against the UK and Channel Islands’.
Two Royal Navy patrol vessels were said to be on a state of ‘high readiness’ in case of further fallout, but there was no immediate sign they would be required.
Mr Johnson is using the G20 summit in an attempt to gain momentum ahead of the COP26 gathering next week. But he has admitted that the chances of the climate event being a success are only ‘six out of 10’, and has been begging China to do more.
The premier has had some light relief in the Italian capital, including walking the famous Spanish Steps with his pregnant wife Carrie last night.
Mrs Johnson was today given a tour of the Colosseum along with other leaders’ spouses while the summit talks continued.
Climate change protests have been taking place outside the ‘ring of steel’ established to protect world leaders in Rome
Police in riot gear clear the road by moving the Climate Camp activists blocking the road leading to the G20 summit
Chances of COP success just six out of 10, says PM
Boris Johnson today admitted that the chance of COP26 being a success is just six out of 10 as he begged China to do more to stop climate change.
In a round of interviews at the G20 summit in Rome – where he is trying to gain momentum ahead of the gathering in Glasgow next week – the PM warned that the outcome is still in the balance.
He painted a dire picture of the consequences if world leaders do not act, with civilisation at risk of plunging back into the ‘Dark Ages’.
He said that when the Roman Empire collapsed it could ‘no longer control its borders, people came in from the east’ – and climate change could cause similar disaster with ‘contests for water, for food’.
The premier conceded that there will be ‘costs’ from moving to a Net Zero economy – which he has promised the UK will do by 2050 – but he said it would also create high-skilled, high-paid jobs.
‘If you increase the temperatures of the planet by 4 degrees or more as they are predicted to do remorselessly, you’ll have seen the graphs, then you produce these really very difficult geopolitical events,’ he said.
‘You produce shortages, you produce desertification, habitat loss, movements… contests for water, for food, huge movements of peoples.
‘Those are things that are going to be politically very very difficult to control. When the Roman Empire fell, it was largely as a result of uncontrolled immigration.
‘The Empire could no longer control its borders, people came in from the east, all over the place, and we went into a Dark Ages, Europe went into a Dark Ages that lasted a very long time.
‘The point of that is to say it can happen again. People should not be so conceited as to imagine that history is a one-way ratchet.’
Tories are livid at the extreme attacks from French allies of Mr Macron – who is facing a tough presidential election battle next spring.
Briefing reporters in Rome this afternoon, the PM’s spokesman said Mr Johnson regarded Mr Macron as a ‘friend’.
But the spokesman said of France’s threats: ‘We don’t think those are appropriate, we are acting well within the legal boundaries set by the TCA and we will continue to do so.’
He added: ‘Should France proceed with the threats they have set out we will act in a proportionate and calibrated manner.’
The spokesman said Mr Johnson did not want the spat with France to ‘distract’ from the climate change issue and the ‘whole world’ should be focused on solutions at COP.
‘As the PM said, we very much feel we have bigger fish to fry,’ he said.
On the idea that the UK should be punished for Brexit, the spokesman said: ‘Brexit was a decision taken by the British people and enacted by the government.’
The spokesman stressed that licences were being granted to French ships. ‘It is simply a case that if boats are able to provide historical data.. they will be granted a licence.’
Asked about the awkward fist-bump with Mr Macron, he said: ‘He considers President Macron a friend and obviously France as an enduring ally.’
In his bombshell leaked letter to the EU commission, Mr Castex said: ‘It … seems necessary for the European Union to show its full determination to obtain full compliance with the agreement by the United Kingdom and assert its rights by using the levers at its disposal in a firm, united and proportionate manner.
‘It is essential to make clear to European public opinion that compliance with the commitments entered into is non-negotiable and that leaving the Union is more damaging than remaining in it.’
The letter emerged as Mr Macron suggested the UK has not kept its Brexit pledges.
Speaking in an interview with the Financial Times, he said the UK’s ‘credibility’ was at stake over the dispute in what will be seen as a reference to the handling of post-Brexit fishing licences.
‘When you spend years negotiating a treaty and then a few months later you do the opposite of what was decided on the aspects that suit you the least, it is not a big sign of your credibility,’ he said.
Mr Johnson warned world leaders ‘the future of civilisation is at stake’ and compared climate change to the fall of the Roman Empire as he arrived in Rome.
In an apocalyptic vision of the future, Mr Johnson claimed society could return to the dark ages with ‘terrifying’ speed.
He said generations to come could slump into illiteracy – and even suggested cows could get smaller.
Mr Johnson and Australian counterpart Scott Morrison clowned around for the cameras before their talks this afternoon
Mr Johnson touches elbows with Mr Morrison prior to a bilateral meeting
Mr Johnson held bilateral talks with Canadian PM Justin Trudeau today, congratulating him on being re-elected
Vladimir Putin addressed the G20 summit by video-link today. He has not be travelled since the pandemic took hold
Carrie Johnson was given a tour of the Colosseum with other spouses while world leaders had their discussions at the summit centre in Rome today
Mrs Johnson visits the Colosseum alongside partners of world leaders during the G20 spousal programme
The spouses of the world leaders pose during a photoshoot at the Colosseum during the G20 summit
Mr Johnson had a warm greeting with Mr Biden as they attended the plenary session of talks in Rome today
Mr Macron had an effusive greeting for Mr Biden after the pair settled their differences over the AUKUS defence pact
He argued that after the collapse of Rome, civilisation even lost the ability to draw properly – saying ‘our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren’ could face food and water shortages.
Meanwhile, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has urged G20 leaders to show ‘more ambition and more action’ and overcome mistrust in order to advance climate goals.
‘We are still on time to put things on track, and I think the G20 meeting is the opportunity to do that,’ Guterres said.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi met leaders as they arrived in the futuristic convention centre known as the ‘Nuvola’ (cloud) in EUR, a southern Rome district built by Benito Mussolini to glorify his fascist regime.
US President Joe Biden flew in yesterday hoping to turn a page from the tumultuous Trump years and show that American leadership on the world stage is restored.
However, the Democrat faces a credibility test as his own signature climate policy – part of a sweeping economic package – is held up amid infighting within his party in Congress.
Mr Biden met Pope Francis and then Mr Macron, admitted during their talks that Washington had been ‘clumsy’ in handling a submarine deal with Australia and Britain that left Paris out in the cold.
Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping are absent from Rome, attending only by video link, but other leaders are taking advantage of the first in-person G20 for more than two years to hold a flurry of bilaterals.
Security is tight in Rome following violent protests earlier this month over the extension of Italy’s coronavirus pass to workplaces.
Draghi has called for a ‘G20 commitment on the need to limit the rise in temperatures to 1.5 degrees’ above pre-industrial levels, the most ambitious target outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi greets Mr Johnson as he arrives for the G20 leaders summit
Chancellor Rishi Sunak is also at the G20 summit in Rome today after delivering his Budget package this week
As the sun rose over Italy this morning the Prime Minister was offered a tour of the Colosseum, where gladiators fought in ancient Rome
The Prime Minister visited the Colosseum this morning, after yesterday offering an apocalyptic vision of the future
A large crowd of students holding homemade banners descended on the venue for the G20 summit in Rome on Saturday
One banner called for the ‘future’ during a demonstration in Rome against the precariousness of education in Italy
Mr Johnson – the host of the UN climate summit next week – said neither the G20 nor the COP26 meetings could stop global warming, and ‘the most we can hope to do is slow the increase’.
Complicating the task for the G20 will be disparities between top world powers.
China, the world’s biggest polluter and responsible for more than a quarter of all carbon emissions, has been accused of sidestepping calls to stop building new coal-fired power plants.
A new plan submitted by Beijing to the UN ahead of COP26 fell short of environmentalists’ expectations, with a target date of 2060 to reach carbon neutrality.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, meanwhile, has steadfastly demanded that his country be paid for protecting its share of the Amazon.
The world’s biggest rainforest is seen as a vital resource to combat climate change for its ability to absorb fossil fuel emissions.
Mr Johnson’s Roman Empire comments came amid fears that the Glasgow gathering could end up as a damp squib. China’s premier Xi has confirmed that he will not attend the event in person, although he will make a speech by video link.
Meanwhile, Putin is also shunning the summit along with Mr Bolsanaro.
COP26 begins in Glasgow on Sunday and will look to build on agreements made at the Paris climate summit in 2015 where nations agreed to try to keep global heating to below 1.5C
He went on: ‘We could consign our children, our grandchildren, our great grandchildren to a life in which there are not only huge movements of populations and huge migrations, but also shortages of food, shortages of water, of conflict caused by climate change and there is absolutely no question that this is a reality that we must face.’
Mr Johnson said after Roman civilisation humanity became ‘far less literate’.
‘Look at evidence of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire if you doubt what I say, when Rome fell humanity became far less literate overall, people lost the ability to read and write, they lost the ability to draw properly, they lost the ability to build in the way the Romans did.’
He said: ‘Things can go backwards and they can go backwards at a really terrifying speed.’
COP26 begins on Sunday at Glasgow’s Scottish Event Campus (SEC) and will welcome 30,000 delegates, 10,000 police and as many as 200,000 protesters for the 13-day conference.
Britain was this week preparing to retaliate after a UK trawler – the Cornelis Gert Jan (pictured right in in Le Havre, France, October 28, 2021) – was detained by France amid fears the fishing row could spark a full-blown trade war
Pictured: French gendarmes aboard the Cornelis-Gert Jan scallop boat which has been impounded by the French Gendarmerie Maritime for illegally fishing in the Bay of the Seine in french waters
In a dramatic intensification of the row over post-Brexit fishing rights this week, the Cornelis Gert Jan was ordered to divert to Le Havre after French authorities said it did not have a licence.
The trawler’s boss claimed his vessel was being used as a ‘pawn’ in the dispute and blasted the ‘politically motivated’ French. Its officials also fined a second vessel.
French ministers warned they will block British boats from some French ports and tighten checks on vessels travelling between France and the UK if the issue of post-Brexit fishing licenses is not resolved by Tuesday (November 2) – as well as threatening the electricity supply to the Channel Islands.
Ministers on Thursday were reportedly presented with retaliatory options should Paris press ahead with its threat next week, with one such option including further restricting French fishing access to UK waters.
Another potential move on the table in the ‘options paper’, presented to a Cabinet sub-committee chaired by Lord Frost, is the stepping up of checks on French vessels landing in UK ports, according to the Daily Telegraph.
Confronting Macron at the G20 meeting and dispatching the UK’s ambassador in Paris are also reportedly being considered – although Government sources told the newspaper there was no scheduled meeting with Macron in Italy and retaliatory measures would depend on France’s actions.
Environment minister George Eustice warned of retaliatory measures on Thursay, saying that if France went ahead with its threats, ‘Two can play at that game and we reserve the ability to respond in a proportionate way.’
The Cornelis and its eight crewmen languished in port, with the crew being told to stay on board. As of Thursday night, there was no indication when it would be allowed to leave.
With its blue hull, white bridge and red winches it has a somewhat ironic French tricolour appearance.
Andrew Brown, director of the boat’s owners, MacDuff Shellfish, told the Daily Mail the French were ‘exploiting’ supposed confusion over post-Brexit paperwork.