Deadline in UK-France fishing row passes without agreement

France threatens to push for legal action if there is no ‘sign of goodwill’ in granting its boats licences to fish in British waters

An EU deadline for the UK to grant licences to dozens of French boats in a post-Brexit fishing row has passed without an agreement being announced.

There had been suggestions on Friday that negotiations over fishing licences for small French boats in British waters could lead to a breakthrough but sources said there was no announcement expected from the UK government as the midnight deadline came and went.

France had threatened to push the European Union for legal action and trade restrictions against the UK if there was not a “sign of goodwill” in the fishing row in time for a Friday deadline set by Brussels.

The European Commission had said it expected the dispute to be resolved by midnight.

The main source of contention is the number of licences to fish in waters around the British coastline for smaller French vessels that can prove they operated there before Brexit.

France says that 104 of its boats still lack licences to operate in British and Channel Island waters that should have been granted under a Brexit deal the UK signed with the European Union in December last year.

The UK earlier denied discriminating against French boats and says many of the vessels are unable to provide the paperwork required to qualify for a licence.

“This is a technical process based on evidence rather than deadlines,” a British government spokesman said.

But France’s Europe minister, Clément Beaune, held out the possibility of the UK granting “a few dozen more [licences] as a gesture of goodwill”, which would mean talks could continue, and the European Commission said it was hoping for a breakthrough later on Friday.

“If they stick to their guns, then we will ask the European Commission to begin a legal complaint,” Beaune told Franceinfo radio on Friday.

“A legal procedure does not just involve papers and courts, it’s also measures, for example customs measures, that Europe can take collectively to tell the British in certain sectors, ‘since you do not respect the agreement, some of your products are not recognised’.”

The UK environment secretary, George Eustice, held talks with the EU environment commissioner, Virginijus Sinkevičius, on Friday.

“Intensive technical discussions over recent days have been constructive, however they have not yet reached their conclusion,” the UK spokesperson said.

“Our position remains that vessels must provide sufficient evidence of historic fishing activity in order to receive a licence.”

Brussels has said the dispute must be settled by 10 December but Downing Street said on Thursday it did not recognise the cut-off point.

“We’ve never set a deadline. I recognise they [the EU] themselves have set one but it’s not one we’re working to,” a spokesperson for the UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, said on Thursday.

Beaune said the UK government’s comment was “surprising”, adding: “It’s not really a sign of trust.”

France and the UK have clashed repeatedly this year over fishing as well as migrants crossing the Channel, post-Brexit trade arrangements and the sale of submarines to Australia.

“The problem with the British government is that it does not do what it says,” the French president, Emmanuel Macron, said on Thursday, accusing London of failing to keep its word on Brexit and the fishing licences.

With Press Association and Agence France-Presse

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