French President Emmanuel Macron has backed down from his midnight deadline for retaliation against the UK over the post Brexit fishing rights row.
Macron confirmed today that will not go ahead with retaliatory measures against Britain, which just hours ago he promised to implement at midnight, instead saying he would resume talks on Tuesday.
He declared discussions between France, the UK and the European Commission would ‘continue tomorrow’ and ruled out any retaliation against Britain because ‘it’s not while we’re negotiating that we’re going to impose sanctions’.
It comes as both Macron and Boris Johnson are participating side by side in the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow.
Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said earlier today that the government is prepared to launch action of its own against France should Macron go ahead with the threat.
Despite a seeming lull in hostilities, a French fishing chief last night warned trawlermen to stay away from British waters in case the row blows up again.
Olivier Lepretre, chairman of the powerful northern French fisheries committee, said: ‘I fear there might be some tit-for-tat measures. We need an agreement that works for both French and British fishermen.’
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L), UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (R) and French President Emmanuel Macron talk at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, November 1, 2021
A British trawler Cornelis Gert Jan is seen moored in the port of Le Havre, after France seized on Thursday a British trawler fishing in its territorial waters without a licence, in Le Havre, France, October 29, 2021
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss (pictured at COP today) rejected the deadline set by the French president of tomorrow for more small boats to be granted licences for UK waters and said Britain is prepared to launch action of its own against France
The French president had warned that Paris could block British boats from landing their catches in French ports and tighten customs checks from midnight in protest at what they claim is a refusal by the UK authorities to grant licences to French boats.
France alleges Britain is not honouring a post-Brexit deal on access to British fishing grounds, and said yesterday that from midnight (2300 GMT) on Monday it would retaliate by stepping up checks on trucks coming from Britain and barring British trawlers from docking in French ports.
But the UK insisted it would only grant licences to boats which meet the criteria set out in the Brexit deal.
On Monday night, reports said Mr Macron had said negotiations must continue.
A UK Government spokesperson said: ‘We welcome the French Government’s announcement that they will not go ahead with implementing their proposed measures as planned tomorrow.
‘The UK has set out its position clearly on these measures in recent days.
‘As we have said consistently, we are ready to continue intensive discussions on fisheries, including considering any new evidence to support the remaining license applications.
‘We welcome France’s acknowledgement that in-depth discussions are needed to resolve the range of difficulties in the UK/EU relationship.’
On Monday night, just hours ahead of the deadline set by Paris, the French president was reported to have told journalists at the Cop26 summit in Glasgow: ‘Since this afternoon, discussions have resumed on the basis of a proposal I made to Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
‘The talks need to continue.’
‘My understanding is that the British were going to come back to us tomorrow with other proposals. All that will be worked on.
‘We’ll see where we are tomorrow at the end of the day, to see if things have really changed,’ he is reported to have said.
Emmanuel Macron and Boris Johnson met briefly today as the French president arrived in Glasgow for the COP26 climate summit, while officials from the two nations were involved in ongoing talks convened by the European Commission in Brussels.
Downing Street previously said it had ‘robust’ contingency plans in place if Macron had decided to press forward with retaliatory measures.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss confirmed the UK would take legal action under the UK-EU Brexit trade deal, while a tit-for-tat retaliation to French action has not been ruled out.
Truss told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Those threats are completely unwarranted. We allocated the fishing licences completely in line with what is in the trade agreement with the EU and the French need to withdraw those threats.
‘Otherwise we will use the dispute resolution mechanism in the EU deal to take action.’
She added: ‘We are simply not going to roll over in the face of these threats.’
The UK has granted licences to 98% of EU vessels which have requested permission to operate in British waters.
But the dispute centres on access for small boats, under 12 metres, wishing to fish in the UK six to 12 nautical mile zone.
The government in Paris was angry that the UK originally granted only 12 licences out of 47 bids for smaller vessels, a figure which has now risen to 18.
Only boats which can demonstrate they have fished in UK waters for one day in each of the years between 2012 and 2016 qualify for a licence.
The Elysee Palace had said that without movement from the UK Government, the retaliatory measures would come into force at midnight, AFP reported.
A No 10 spokesman told reporters: ‘As you would expect, we have robust contingency plans in place.
‘I’m not going to get into the detail of them here.
‘It is the French that made these threats and we are continuing to call for them to step back from those threats.’
Jersey, which has also been threatened with action by France, has issued 49 temporary licences and 113 permanent licences to French vessels.