French admit UK holds all the cards in fishing row as Macron forced to follow EUs lead

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Lord Frost will meet France’s Europe minister Clement Beaune in Paris in an attempt to end a bitter dispute over post-Brexit fishing rights. The meeting comes after France threatened sanctions over what it perceives as a refusal to issue licences to its trawlers to operate in UK waters.

Generation Frexit leader, Charles-Henri Gallois, has warned France’s position in the dispute is weak given EU member states must follow Brussels’ rules over common fisheries policies.

Defending the UK’s demands, Mr Gallois said: “The UK is in the right.

“It is the agreement that is unfavourable to French fishermen.”

He added: “We can see that the UK holds all the cards and can be nimble, whereas France is mired in the EU which manages all the trade and fisheries policy of the member states.”

French President Emmanuel Macron has delayed the imposition of punitive measures while talks between the UK, France and the European Commission take place.

But the French government has insisted the measures – which could include a ban on British trawlers landing their catches in French ports and tighter customs checks to hamper cross-Channel trade – remain “on the table” if a deal cannot be reached.

Lord Frost will follow his talks with Mr Beaune on Thursday by heading to Brussels on Friday to meet European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal underlined that the threat of sanctions remained: “We will see what comes with those meetings.

“As you know, the control measures that we announced are still suspended but all options are on the table and we may need to implement those measures if we do not reach an agreement.”

On Wednesday, he said: “We are just waiting for one thing: for the UK to respect the deal that they signed.”

Under the Brexit deal, European Union boats which can show they have fished in British waters in at least four of the years from 2012 to 2016 are eligible for a licence.

Some 1,831 applications for licences have been received, with 1,793 issued.

The main source of contention has been for smaller vessels, the under 12-metre category fishing between six and 12 nautical miles off the coast, where 50 applications have been received – all from French vessels – but just 19 have been issued.

Meanwhile, a British trawler which was impounded by France amid the crisis in cross-Channel relations has been released by the authorities.

The Scottish-registered scallop dredger Cornelis Gert Jan left Le Havre on Wednesday evening after being held there since last week, when France accused it of fishing in its waters without a proper licence.

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The blue, white and red trawler departed the quayside after dusk and location data suggested it was in the English Channel.

The public affairs director of the vessel’s owner Macduff Shellfish confirmed it has been released by French authorities.

“The court (of appeal) determined that no bond was required for the release of the vessel,” Andrew Brown said in a statement to the PA news agency.

He added: “We are pleased to have this matter resolved and delighted that our crew and vessel are now able to return home. The crew have acted with calmness and professionalism throughout the entire incident.

“They are in good spirits, looking forward to return to their loved ones and are grateful for all the messages of support received from the British public.”

The ruling came after the boat’s captain, Jondy Ward, appeared at the Court of Appeal in Rouen earlier on Wednesday.

Mr Ward explained that French maritime police detained the trawler last week for not being on a European register when it was fishing off the Normandy coast.

The skipper said he did not know if it was an error on the part of UK or French officials.

“We had everything in order on the bridge, as far as I was concerned we had everything in place to be legal,” he said.

He said the boat was “definitely” caught in the middle of the Franco-British spat over post-Brexit fishing arrangements.

The comments were echoed by his lawyer, Mathieu Croix, who told reporters outside the courtroom: “We’re clearly caught in a political game as there is a whole story spun around this entire case, whereas in fact it is a rather mundane affair over fishing in an area that is supposedly out of bounds, and about licences that may or may not have been given and catch amounts that are relatively modest.”

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