The UK is risking further relations with Paris on Tuesday after announcing a decision to allow only a handful of smaller French boats to be caught in British coastal waters under the Brexit withdrawal agreement.
As part of the EU-UK divorce agreement, it has been agreed that EU boats may fish in the sensitive coastal area of 6 to 12 nautical miles in the UK if they can show a proven record of fishing in those areas.
After receiving 87 requests from the French government this year, the British government announced that only 12 smaller boats under 12 meters in length may fish in English and Welsh coastal waters in particular.
Officials said the decision was made after an in-depth investigation into data provided by smaller fishing vessels, including location data and fish landing records.
The agreement required that in four of the five years between 2012 and 2016, boats could prove that they had caught at least once a year in the 6nm-12nm zone.
The decision to allow only one in seven of France’s requests for small boats access to British coastal waters could further hamper relations between London and Paris, a few weeks later the row over the Aukus submarine agreement.
A senior French official said: ‘No one should believe that the bureaucratic procedures of claiming tons of paperwork will solve the problems of fishermen claiming their fishing rights. ‘
France is also awaiting responses to requests for fishing licenses in the Channel Islands, with 168 from Guernsey and 169 from Jersey, which is expected to make a statement on Wednesday.
The Channel Islands are not expected to provide the definitive licenses required by the French and to request further information from some vessels.
In May last year, when tensions flared over the political emotional issue, the British government sent a Royal Navy ship to Jersey French boats block St Helier in Jersey out of protest against the decisions. One French minister even threatened to cut off the electricity supply to the islands, which are being delivered from France.
Last week, France’s European Minister Clément Beaune said that patience with the United Kingdom had eased over the solution of fishing rights after Brexit.
“We are at the end of our patience. We are continuing our fight, ”Beaune said during a French parliamentary hearing, accusing the United Kingdom of being ‘unsportsmanlike’ in dealing with the license applications.
A British government spokesman said they had issued a large number of licenses – around 1,600 – for EU vessels to fish in all British waters, which also includes the exclusive economic zone of 12 nm to 200 nm. A total of 105 larger EU vessels were now licensed for the 6nm-12nm zone, of which 88 were French.
Of the 87 French requests for boats under 12 meters, only 47 fully complied with the conditions, while a further 35 requests did not have ‘sufficient’ supporting evidence and five more did not qualify.
“Our approach was reasonable and fully in line with our commitments in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement,” the spokesman said.