the United Kingdom grants 23 additional licenses to the French

The UK has granted 23 additional licenses to French fishermen, a UK government spokesperson said on Saturday (December 11th). The announcement comes the day after a deadline set by the French government in the post-Brexit fishing rights dispute.

This number remains well below the 104 licenses demanded by France in recent days, threatening to go to litigation in the absence by Friday of “Goodwill gesture” from London.

“Yesterday evening, after receiving additional supporting documents from the European Commission, the UK granted 18 licenses to replacement vessels” taking the place of boats previously fishing in UK waters. This announcement has been confirmed by the European Commission, which is negotiating on behalf of France. “More in-depth technical work continues on seven additional license applications for replacement vessels, and is expected to be concluded on Monday”, added the British spokesperson.

In addition, the Anglo-Norman island of Jersey, which grants its licenses independently, on Saturday approved 5 new licenses for French fishermen, continued the same spokesperson. According to him, these decisions “Conclude the period of intensive talks” of the last days between London and the European Commission.

81 licenses still requested

Under the agreement signed at the end of 2020 between London and Brussels, European fishermen can continue to work in British waters provided they can prove that they were fishing there before. But for more than eleven months, the French and the British have been arguing over the nature and extent of the supporting documents to be provided.

With the 23 approvals announced on Saturday, France has so far obtained 1,027 post-Brexit fishing licenses and is therefore claiming another 81. “This decision is an important step in a long process. We will examine (…) the legal basis for each license request that has not yet been approved ”, highlighted Saturday on Twitter the European Commissioner for Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevicius.

Read also Post-Brexit fishing: Paris confirms being ready to launch litigation against London

Paris will he abandon the path of official litigation so far? The government must allow time for reflection over the weekend to know what response to adopt. Several scenarios were envisaged, from the darkest to the most optimistic. If the UK were to stick to its hard stance, France could ask the European Commission “To announce that a dispute is initiated”, to use the words of the Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune.

On the other hand, a “Strong gesture”of the order of sixty licenses granted to French fishermen, as well as a relaxation of the criteria imposed by the British – would be likely to deflate the crisis, estimates one in Paris.

Ambivalences left in the Brexit agreement

The French position must be decided between Clément Beaune and Prime Minister Jean Castex. But Emmanuel Macron is also looking closely at this subject of high symbolic value, four months before the presidential election. “I really want to have a government [britannique] who simply wishes to work in good faith with us ”, said the head of state on Thursday. “We will not let go of our fishermen”, he had assured, on November 19, promising to receive them before Christmas.

The disagreement stems from the ambivalences left in the Brexit deal. Boats able to prove that they were in UK waters between 2012 and 2016 may be licensed. But the evidence to be provided has not been clearly defined. For smaller vessels, less than twelve meters, which do not have GPS data, it is sometimes difficult to provide. The problem also concerns fishermen who have changed boats, who are not automatically recognized. These discussions, which could have remained technical, have become a political symbol.

The World with AFP

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