Luxembourgh Times

France toughens tone on fish dispute as UK talks drag on

Talks between the European Commission and the UK resume on Monday

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian © Photo credit: AFP

Source: Bloomberg

France will continue supporting its fishermen as talks with the UK on post-Brexit fish licenses drag on, according to Gabriel Attal, the spokesman for the French government.

“As long as the talks go on and our fishermen aren’t given all the licenses requested and that they are owed, it’s clear we need to accompany them,” Attal said in an interview on Europe 1 radio on Sunday.

French Sea Minister Annick Girardin said Thursday France is preparing to help fishermen who will be forced to stop working if they don’t obtain licenses from the UK.

The comments caused an outcry in France, suggesting the government believes it may not get all the licenses it has long sought from the UK. That prompted President Emmanuel Macron on Friday to pledge France would “continue to fight” for its fishermen and “not abandon” them.

“The difficulty is that the British aren’t respecting the accord,” Attal said on Europe 1 today. “We don’t want any more or any less than making sure the signed agreement is respected.”

French fishermen have been “very patient, and very resilient” and “are simply wondering whether they will be able to continue working,” Attal said. “They need to be supported.”

The government spokesman also reiterated negotiations are ongoing at European Union-level to make sure the fisheries agreement is respected.

“We are mobilised” with the EU on fish licences but also on other post-Brexit topics, for example northern Ireland, Attal added. “Europe won’t be messed with.”

Although the fishing rights at stake represent only a small percentage of each country’s economy, the dispute has become a thorn in relations between France and Britain, adding itself to bigger problems, such as migrants. The stakes are high for French President Emmanuel Macron, who faces re-election next year.

Talks between the European Commission and the UK resume on Monday, as the fish spat is “a European Union problem,” French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a separate interview on RTL radio on Sunday.

“We will fight license after license, boat after boat,” Le Drian said, adding that the UK is a “potential partner” that’s now unfortunately adopting “populist manoeuvres” against France, including on migrants.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is “a populist” who uses “every element at hand to reinforce his political power in Britain” and is “trying to shove on others the fault for difficulties he has in the interior,” he added.

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