Brexit: Clement Beaune says UK and EU can’t ‘play games’
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Tensions are already running high after last week’s threat by Annick Girardin, France’s minister for the Seas, to cut off the electricity supply to Jersey, and an attempt to blockade the island by French fishermen. Now French officials are plotting to stall a key regulatory cooperation agreement on finance as part of a broader effort to pile the pressure on UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, have claimed, citing private conversations.
The non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) agreed earlier this month would be the first step on future cooperation, paving the way for the granting of market access to UK firms further down the road.
However, France is apparently reluctant to allow it to come into force, and remains determined to use the issue to turn the screw in the face of ongoing unrest in the country’s northern fishing ports over delays in obtaining licenses to continue fishing in UK waters.
Before the MoU can be implemented, all 27 EU members must sign off, with the formal procedure has yet to start, although it could do so in the next few days, insiders have suggested.
Boris Johnson dispatched two Royal Navy vessels to Jersey last week after roughly 60 French fishing boats staged a protest which at one point seemed likely to turn into a blockade.
The fishermen were angry at Jersey placing restrictions on the access they had to waters around the island.
The angry fishermen subsequently returned to port, with negotiations between France and Jersey set to restart shortly.
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However, France is complaining that many French crews are still awaiting licenses to resume working in UK waters.
France’s junior minister for EU affairs, Clement Beaune, has already publicly threatened to limit access for UK financial services companies into the EU if fishing boats are not treated in a way his country considered fair.
Speaking to French TV station BFM last month, Mr Beaune said: “The UK is expecting a number of financial services authorisations from us.
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“We will not give any until we have the guarantees that on fishing and other subjects, the United Kingdom is respecting its commitments.
“It’s give-and-take. Everyone must respect their commitments, otherwise, we will be as brutal and difficult as necessary.”
At the end of the month, EU leaders will meet in Brussels, where they will discuss relations with the UK, with the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs accusing London of breaching the Brexit deal on Northern Ireland and fishing.
The European Commission and an official in Mr Beaune’s office has declined to comment officially on France’s position.
Negotiations over fishing rights were one of the most controversial aspects of the post-Brexit trade negotiations which resulted in the free trade agreement by the two sides in December.
The deal largely sidelined the finance industry and the EU has since warned it is in no rush to grant the equivalence rulings which would restore unfettered trading rights for British firms.
At the end of March, Britain and the EU had agreed on a forum regarding cross-border financial market access.
While granting so-called equivalences allowing UK financial firms to do business in Europe remains a separate and unilateral process, the MoU would help speed up the process.
Since Brexit took full effect at the beginning of 2021, London-based financial firms have been largely unable to operate in the bloc.
As a result, banks like JPMorgan Chase & Co and Goldman Sachs Group Inc have been forced to move billions of dollars in assets and thousands of staff to the continent.
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