UK-France fish spat deepens despite Macron-Johnson meeting

On Sunday, the French President Emmanuel Macron met with the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to discuss an escalating dispute about fishing in the English Channel. However, the two countries seemed further apart and offered starkly different versions of the outcome.

UK-France fish spat deepens despite Macron-Johnson meeting

Within days, the post-Brexit dispute over the granting licenses to fish in Britain’s coastal waters could escalate into a French blockade that would result in devastating British boats.

A French top official stated that Macron and Johnson met for 30 minutes on the margins of the Group of 20 summit in Rome. He said they agreed to talk to one another "in a position of important tensions."

Britain denied that the leaders had agreed for steps to deescalate the spat and said it was up to France to calm things down.

In a statement, the U.K. government stated that Johnson had "reiterated his deep concerns" about France's rhetoric during the meeting and "expressed his hopes that the French government would deescalate."

Max Blain, Johnson's spokesperson, stated that "our position hasn't changed."

Blain stated that it was up to the French to decide if they are ready to abandon the threats they made in the past days.

"Both in words and actions, we have not attempted to escalate this. ... The French would be responsible for the de-escalation.

Un second French official stated that the "difference in views" shows a different mindset and that Paris is concerned about the French-British relations and the commitments made.

Although fishing is a small industry economically, it is one that has a significant symbolic value for countries like France and Britain. The U.K. has the power to decide who fishes in its waters, as a result of Britain's departure from the economic rules of the bloc of 27 nations at the beginning of this year.

France claims that some vessels were denied permission to fish in waters they have long sailed in. Britain claims it has granted 98% percent of EU vessel applications, but the dispute is now down to a handful of French boats without sufficient paperwork.

Clement Beaune, France's Minister of European Affairs, said that Britain had violated the Brexit agreement.

He tweeted, "For the EU in its entirety, approximately 90% of the expected licences have been granted but all the missing ones, are French."

Macron stressed to Johnson that he must "respect" the commitments made by the U.K. and the European Union in the Brexit deal, according to a French presidency statement.

According to the French official, France made specific demands about licenses for ships in British waters and around Guernsey and Jersey.

He stated that France and Britain would hold talks in the "coming hours and days" about practical details with the goal of "easing tensions and stabilizing the situation." Britain however denied such talks were being planned.

Both sides accuse each other of violating the Brexit withdrawal agreement. Britain claims it is considering launching dispute settlement proceedings. This formal legal process would be initiated if France doesn't drop its threats.

France threatened to ban British vessels from its ports and tighten controls on boats and trucks transporting U.K goods if licenses aren’t granted by Tuesday.

The official declined to comment on whether France was still willing to impose sanctions.

He said, "We aren't there yet." In accordance with French presidency customary practices, he spoke anonymously.

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