French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met on Sunday on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome amid a growing dispute over post-Brexit fishing rights in the Channel, French media reporting that Macron had tells his British counterpart to “obey” the rules.
The two have agreed to work together to reduce tensions, a French official said.
“The goal for the president and the prime minister was to work on de-escalation,” the official told reporters after the brief one-on-one meeting.
Downing Street, for its part, said in a statement that Johnson had reiterated British demands for France to drop its “threats”.
“If the French government wants to come up with proposals to defuse the threats it has made, we would absolutely welcome them. Our position has not changed,” Johnson’s spokesman told reporters.
France was furious that Britain and the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey had not issued enough fishing licenses to French boats. Paris has vowed that unless more licenses are approved, it will ban British vessels from unloading their catches in French ports from Tuesday and impose controls on all products imported from Britain into France.
Johnson complained to EU chief Ursula von der Leyen on Saturday that the French threats to the fishery were “completely unjustified”. Von Der Leyen said in a tweet that the European Commission was “intensely committed to finding solutions” to the fishing spat.
The British Prime Minister also said on Saturday that he could not rule out launching action against France next week as part of a never-before-used dispute settlement process previously allowed by the terms of the deal on Brexit.
“If there is a breach of the treaty or if we believe there is a breach of the treaty, we will do what is necessary to protect British interests,” Johnson told Sky News at the Colliseum in Rome.
When asked if he had ruled out using the dispute settlement measures outlined in the so-called Trade and Cooperation Agreement (ACT) next week, Johnson replied: “No, of course not. , I do not exclude that. “
Johnson added, however, that cooperation with the allies was preferable to all parties.
“But what I think everyone wants to see [is] cooperation between European allies and Emmanuel Macron and I share a common perspective, namely that climate change is a disaster for humanity.
The simmering feud has already seen a British trawler arrested in a French port on Wednesday and the Paris ambassador to London summoned to the Foreign Office for the type of disguise unusual among the allies.
Local officials said on Saturday that the trawler, hijacked by France to the northern port of Le Havre for operating without a license, would remain there until a deposit of € 150,000 ($ 173,000) was paid.
“The boat will not leave until the deposits and the deposit are paid,” said the sub-prefecture of Le Havre.
Prosecutors have ordered the trial of the Irish captain of the Scotland-registered trawler accused of illegally collecting more than two tonnes of scallops in French waters.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex said in a leaked letter to von der Leyen on Friday that Britain had to be shown “that it does more damage to leave the EU than to stay there”. The letter, obtained by Politico, sparked an angry reaction from Johnson’s Brexit Minister David Frost, who said on Saturday he hoped the opinion “is not more widely shared in the EU.”
Doubling down on Johnson’s words, Frost said London “was actively considering initiating dispute settlement” over the French threats.
But in other public statements, Johnson highlighted his close personal ties to French President Macron. In a side meeting of the G20 on Iran with the American and German leaders, the two men exchanged friendly pats on the back. The British leader gave his French counterpart a mock punch when they arrived for the leaders’ “family photo”.
Moreover, with the crucial COP26 climate change summit starting in Glasgow on Sunday, Johnson said the fishing dispute “is frankly a small beer – insignificant, by comparison, with the threat to humanity to which we are facing”.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and Reuters)