George Eustice: UK vessels have acted within fishing agreement
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The Government is “urgently” investigating reports that a British trawler has been detained off the coast of France amid ongoing disputes about fishing rights. French authorities said the UK’s failure to comply with trade agreements is “unacceptable” and they will defend the rights of their own fishermen. Environment Secretary George Eustice has said the UK vessel did have a licence.
Mr Eustice told MPs: “Everything we’ve done is entirely consistent with what was agreed in the trade and cooperation agreement.
“The point here that some vessels inevitably will not receive the licence that they might have had previously is that both the trade and cooperation agreement is different from the grand agreement that we had in respect to Jersey and the commons fisheries policy.
“There will be some vessels who had the right to access but never used that access during the reference period and therefore under the terms of the agreement that all sides understood will no longer be entitled to access.”
He went on to suggest France’s threats to block British boats from French ports and tighten checks appear to breach international law.
Mr Eustice said the UK would deliver an “appropriate and calibrated response” should France follow through with the measures.
MPs heard the UK has licensed 98 percent of EU vessels that have applied for access post-Brexit, and more are expected to be granted following “constructive” talks with the European Commission.
Mr Eustice said he had told the French and the Commission that the UK’s “door remains ever open”.
But he added: “In that context, it is very disappointing to see the comments that came from France yesterday. We believe these are disappointing and disproportionate, and not what we’d expect from a close ally and partner.
“The measures being threatened do not appear to be compatible with the trade and cooperation agreement or wider international law, and if carried through will be met with an appropriate and calibrated response.”
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It comes after two boats were fined on Wednesday when one failed to comply with checks by police and the other was found not to hold a proper licence.
A statement from the French maritime ministry said checks had been carried out on the boats in the Baie de Seine, near Le Havre, in the north of the country.
One trawler was fined for obstructing checks after it initially refused a request to be boarded by police, the statement said.
It was later found not to have been in breach of regulations.
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The ministry said the second boat was not on a list of UK vessels with licences granted by the European Commission and France.
The boat was then ordered to divert to Le Havre.
A UK Government spokesman said: “We are aware of reports of enforcement activity being undertaken by the French authorities and are looking into the matter urgently.”
As tensions continue to escalate, France’s Europe minister threatened to block British boats from French ports and tighten checks further.
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