Brexit: Boris Johnson 'worried' France is in breach of trade deal
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The Prime Minister has issued an ultimatum to France and the EU after refusing to rule out triggering a dispute mechanism clause in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement over fishing rights. Paris is threatening to block British boats from its ports and tighten checks on vessels if the lack of licences for small French vessels to fish in British waters is not resolved by Tuesday
Meanwhile, the distance remains “substantial” between the UK and the European Union in their bid to find a resolution on the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The Prime Minister held talks with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during the crunch summit and raised the French “rhetoric” over fishing licences as well a the protocol negotiations.
Mr Johnson said the French threats were “completely unjustified and do not appear to be compatible with the UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement or wider international law.”
Speaking at the G20, Mr Johnson said France had breached the terms of the deal with its fishing threats.
The Prime Minister said he was “worried” Paris “may be about to become in breach, or is already in breach” of the free trade deal agreed between the UK and the European Union.
This, Mr Johnson said, left the possibility of escalating the issue on the table.
Asked by Sky News before his G20 meetings in Rome whether he was ruling out triggering the deal’s dispute resolution mechanism, Mr Johnson replied: “No, of course not. I don’t rule that out.”
The dispute process would see a consultation period started, after which, if there is no solution found, an arbitration panel would be formed with compensation demanded or even the treaty suspended as punishment.
But Mr Johnson left the door open to finding a resolution with French President Emmanuel Macron as he described the UK as being “very keen to work with our friends and partners”.
Last night, Brexit minister Lord Frost said he was “concerned and surprised” at comments made by France’s prime minister Jean Castex to Ms Von der Leyen to encourage Brussels to back Paris’ position against London.
Mr Castex urged the EU to use the “levers at its disposal” to press home the need for “compliance” with the Brexit agreement on fishing and to show that “leaving the Union is more damaging than remaining in it”.
On the protocol, Mr Johnson said “real progress must be achieved soon” in the negotiations to find a solution “rapidly” to the issues with the trading arrangements.
The UK and EU have both put forward proposals to address the dispute over the protocol, the part of the Brexit divorce deal negotiated by Lord Frost and signed by Boris Johnson aimed at avoiding a hard border with Ireland.
The terms effectively kept Northern Ireland in the EU single market, creating a border down the Irish Sea between Great Britain and the fourth nation of the UK.
But while Brussels said its proposed reforms for reducing checks and red tape were “unprecedented and far-reaching”, London has continued to reject them due to the dispute mechanism role being insisted for the European Court of Justice – a red line for Lord Frost, who has set a December deadline for the protocol talks.
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Brussels insiders signalled on Saturday night that there would be “no compromise” on the European Court of Justice (ECJ) making clear the matter “is not up for discussion”.
They argued the ECJ was part of a “binding international agreement” which the UK agreed to.
One source added: “Because Northern Ireland is in the EU single market, then EU law is applied to Northern Ireland, it’s simple.
“When EU law is applied, then it means the European Court of Justice has a role.”
The wrangle over fishing access escalated this week after French authorities accused a Scottish-registered scallop dredger of fishing without a licence.
The captain of the Cornelis Gert Jan vessel, understood to be an Irish national, was detained in Le Havre during the diplomatic storm and has been told to face a court hearing in August next year.
French authorities allege the Cornelis Gert Jan did not have a licence, a claim the boat’s owner, Macduff Shellfish, denies.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss took the rare step of ordering an allied nation’s envoy to be summoned as she called Catherine Colonna, French ambassador to the UK, to the Foreign Office on Friday afternoon to challenge her over France’s stance.
Brexit: French fisherman explains problems surrounding licences
The meeting came after ministers promised retaliation if France did not back down over its proposals if next week’s deadline for increased licences is not met.
At the centre of the dispute are the licences for small boats, which are issued only if the vessels can demonstrate a history of fishing in UK waters.
Meanwhile, Brexit minister Lord Frost and European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic will meet next week to continue to try and thrash out a solution on how to reform the protocol after a lack of movement on Friday.
Speaking ahead of the meeting, Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said there is no “credible” alternative to the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Addressing the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis on Saturday, she added: “I reminded the British Government this week that a majority in the north see the protocol as the solution to their Brexit disaster.
“Businesses in the north continue to access the single market. They want the protocol to work.
“They want certainty and they want solutions. However, the new red lines set out by the British Government begs the question do they want a solution at all?”
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