An EU deadline for Britain to license dozens of French fishing boats appeared to expire on Friday without a final breakthrough in the talks, despite France’s threat to take EU justice.
France says 104 of its ships still lack licenses to operate in British and Channel waters that should have been granted as part of a Brexit deal Britain signed with the Union European in December of last year.
But Britain had made no announcement regarding the granting of new licenses by 10 p.m. GMT, while France said it was not planning a statement on the matter either.
Britain has previously denied any discrimination against French boats and said many ships are unable to provide the documents required to obtain a license.
“This is a technical process based on evidence rather than deadlines,” a UK government spokesperson said.
But French Europe Minister Clément Beaune raised the possibility that Britain would grant “a few dozen more as a sign of goodwill”, which would mean talks could continue, and the European Commission said that she was hoping for a breakthrough later Friday.
“If they stick to their guns, then we will ask the European Commission to take legal action,” Beaune told Franceinfo radio on Friday.
UK Environment Secretary George Eustice met with EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius on Friday.
“The intensive technical discussions over the past few days have been constructive, but they have not yet come to a conclusion,” said the British spokesperson.
“Our position remains that vessels must provide sufficient evidence of historical fishing activity in order to receive a license.”
In Brussels earlier today, an EU spokeswoman said talks with Britain were underway and the goal was still to reach a deal on Friday.
“On both sides, the European Commission and the UK, we have agreed that we have this mutual commitment to end these talks for a positive outcome today,” said Vivian Loonela.
France and Britain have clashed several times this year over fishing as well as migrants crossing the Channel, post-Brexit trade deals and the sale of submarines to Australia.
“The problem with the British government is that it doesn’t do what it says,” French President Emmanuel Macron said at a press conference on Thursday, just weeks after accusing the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to have a “not serious” approach to migration. .
The UK government has said it does not recognize Friday as a deadline to resolve the fishing dispute.
“We have never set a deadline. I admit that they (the EU) have set one themselves, but it is not a date that we are working on,” the spokesperson said on Thursday. from Johnson to reporters.
If France files a complaint with the European Commission, this could lead to the opening of a formal infringement procedure against Great Britain.
Threat of EU sanctions
The eventual final step, if the two sides fail to resolve their differences, could see the EU impose financial sanctions or even tariffs on British goods if Britain is found to be reneging on its commitments under the framework. of the post-Brexit trade agreement of December 2020.
The EU and Britain are also stuck in a separate trade dispute over controls on products entering the UK province of Northern Ireland after the UK government unilaterally postponed the introduction of the controls.
Under the Brexit deal, European fishermen can continue to work in UK waters as long as they can prove they were fishing there before.
France says small boats without GPS data are penalized while Britain also often refuses to issue licenses to new boats which have replaced old vessels in the French fishing fleet.
Britain denies the French claims, and the European Commission said officials were studying French fleet logs compiled between 2012 and 2016 – before boats were fitted with digital monitors – to establish evidence that crews have a history in Jersey waters.
The EU says 95% of the licenses Britain promised EU boats after Brexit have been granted, and the rest in question relate to waters off the Channel Island of Jersey.
“We received new evidence from the Commission yesterday and again this morning which we are now studying alongside Jersey,” the UK spokesperson said.
“Clearly, the reception of this new data is welcome, but we will be guided by the quality of the evidence. “