Deadline looms to solve Channel fishing row as Britain threatens legal action

The UK and France have only two days to resolve their increasingly delicate differences over fishing rights before the Paris deadline for introducing port and border controls.

French officials have warned it will be banning British fishing boats from some ports as of Tuesday and tightening customs controls on trucks entering the country with British goods unless more licenses are issued for small boats to fish in British waters.

The dispute threatened to boil over when Brexit Minister Lord Frost accused France of “behavior” towards Great Britain.

The prime minister met personally with the top official of the European Union, Ursula von der Leyen, during the G20 summit in Rome to express his “concern” about the behavior of France.

In an escalation of the dispute, Lord Frost has warned Brussels that the entire bloc will violate the terms of the post-Brexit free trade agreement with Britain if France complies with its threats.

The Conservative peer said in a series of tweets on Saturday that the UK is “actively considering” opening a trade deal court case to resolve the issue.

He said: “If these threats were implemented on November 2nd, the EU would violate its obligations under our trade agreement.

“We are therefore actively considering initiating a dispute settlement procedure under Article 738 of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA).”

A letter from French Prime Minister Jean Castex to the President of the European Commission, Ms. von der Leyen, saying that Britain should be shown “that leaving the EU does more harm than staying in the EU” Raised anger in London.

Cabinet Minister Lord Frost said the comments were “very worrying and very problematic”, especially given the “very sensitive” negotiations with Brussels to find a solution to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The Sunday Telegraph quoted a senior government source as saying that Mr Castex’s letter “definitely raises the question” whether the EU acted “in good faith” with regard to the talks on Northern Ireland.

At a meeting with Ms. von der Leyen on the fringes of the G20, Mr Johnson warned against France’s “rhetoric”.

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A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “The Prime Minister has expressed concern over the French government’s rhetoric over the past few days on the issue of fishing licenses.

“The Prime Minister stressed that the French threats are totally unjustified and do not appear to be compatible with the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement or broader international law.”

The dispute over access to fishing escalated this week after French authorities arrested a scallop dredger registered in Scotland and accused it of fishing without a license.

The captain of the ship Cornelis Gert Jan, who is an Irish national, was tried in court in August next year.

The Prime Minister and French President Emmanuel Macron, who greeted each other with a punch at a photo opportunity in the Italian capital, are due to speak this weekend on the sidelines of the G20 summit.

It comes as the two leaders have been warned by environmental experts to leave their fishing differences behind or to endanger the all-important UN climate change conference, Cop26.

Professor Lord Stern, whose 2006 government report warned of the disastrous consequences of delaying action on climate change, said the UK and France need to work together to address climate change rather than arguing over a “comparatively trivial issue”.

In comments to the Observer, the Crossbench peer said there was “a story of French and British leaders who banded together on climate change despite major political differences,” referring to the strained relationship between former Elysee Palace incumbent Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair after the Iraq War.

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