UK vs France – Inside Johnson and Macron’s toxic private meeting over fishing row

Liz Truss on possible French motives for fishing row

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The dispute over post-Brexit fishing rights has entered a toxic new phase after Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron held a private meeting on Sunday which failed to produce positive results. Not long after the leaders spoke, Britain threatened to sue France over the dispute, while France said it would block British boats from its ports altogether.

What happened at the meeting?

Mr Johnson and Mr Macron met off-camera at the G20 summit in Rome on Sunday.

While the specifics of the meeting have not been made public, tensions were evidently raised after the encounter.

A briefing war erupted immediately after the meeting, with Downing Street saying it had had no indication from the French government that they were willing to defuse the row.

Paris said Mr Macron and his UK counterpart had decided on “practical and operational measures” to resolve the dispute, but No 10 said no such thing had been agreed.

Boris Johnson’s spokesman told reporters in Rome: “It will be for the French to decide where they want to step away from threats they’ve made in recent days about breaching the Brexit agreement. Of course, we would welcome that.”

Last month, the UK and Jersey denied permits to dozens of French boats to operate in their waters.

In retaliation, France threatened to block British boats from some of its ports and cut electricity to Jersey.

Mr Johnson’s spokesman said: “The Prime Minister reiterated his deep concern over the rhetoric emanating from the French government in recent days, including the suggestion by the French prime minister that the UK should be punished for leaving the EU.

“He expressed his hope that the French government would de-escalate this rhetoric and withdraw their threats.”

According to French officials, Mr Macron told Mr Johnson he expects the UK to “respect” France’s demands to grant more licences for small French boats to fish in British waters, according to French officials.

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He also told the prime minister that the UK must “play by the rules” of the UK-EU trade agreement signed earlier this year.

But Clement Beaune, France’s Europe minister, accused Britain of failing to act like a “friend, ally and responsible partner”.

He also insisted that France would go ahead with threats to block British boats from landing their catch at French ports from Tuesday as well as tightening checks on vessels from Tuesday if the UK refused to grant more fishing licenses.

As tensions mounted on Monday, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss waded in, warning France it had 48 hours to back down on threats before the UK moves to take legal action.

Ms Truss told the BBC that France was acting “unfairly” in setting a deadline for issuing more fishing permits and said the UK will begin dispute talks set out in the Brexit deal if France doesn’t back down.

Ms Truss told Sky News: “The deal hasn’t been done. The French have made completely unreasonable threats, including to the Channel Islands and to our fishing industry and they need to withdraw those threats.”

She said if the French did not withdraw the threats, the UK Government would use “the mechanisms of our trade agreement with the EU to take action”.

She added this “could lead to taking direct action in trade”

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