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French PM calls for ‘tough action’ from EU on post-Brexit fishing row

France on Tuesday urged stronger action from the EU in a dispute with Britain over post-Brexit fishing licences, saying bilateral cooperation between London and Paris could also be at risk.

The harbour of Gorey on Jersey, a self-governing British Crown dependency at the centre of a row with France over fishing licences.
The harbour of Gorey on Jersey, a self-governing British Crown dependency at the centre of a row with France over fishing licences. Photo: MARCEL MOCHET / AFP.

Prime Minister Jean Castex said he had asked the EU Commission for a tougher stance and “if that does not work we will go to the (Brexit deal) arbitration panel to get the British to keep their word and, more broadly, we will question all the conditions of the implementation of agreements with the EU and also, if necessary, the bilateral cooperation we have with the UK.”

Britain has refused to grant all the fishing licences sought by French boats as part of a post-Brexit access deal, leaving Paris furious and fishermen worried for their livelihoods.

France “will not stand for this”, European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune told the Europe 1 broadcaster.

“For example, you could imagine the Channel Islands, where the United Kingdom depends on us for its energy supply…,” Beaune said.

He did not expand further, but the warning echoes an earlier threat by Fisheries Minister Annick Girardin who said in May that the fishing row could have an impact on “the power supply by undersea cable” from France to Jersey.

Channel Islands Jersey and Guernsey are close to France which supplies them with electricity.

France said last week that it would quickly lay out retaliatory measures over fishing rights “towards the British and also our neighbours in Jersey”.

ANALYSIS: Why the new fishing row between France and UK could get nasty

Fishing rights for EU boats in UK waters were a key stumbling block to negotiations for a post-Brexit trade accord between London and Brussels after Britain’s exit from the bloc on January 1st, 2021.

The dispute flared in May when a flotilla of around 50 French trawlers massed in front of the Saint Helier harbour on Jersey, a self-governing territory that along with fellow crown dependency Guernsey depends on Britain for its defence.

The protest sparked a tense standoff that even drew in French and British military vessels.

Since then, French fishermen have applied for the new access licences but complain of onerous paperwork and a requirement to prove they had fished in British and Jersey waters before Brexit, not always an easy task, especially for smaller boats.

Last week, Britain said it would grant just 12 out of 47 applications for new licences for small EU boats, while Jersey issued 64 full and 31 temporary licences but refused 75 applications.

“Our patience has clear limits,” Beaune said. “We’ve negotiated calmly and nicely for nine months now, that’s enough.”

Referring to the UK government, the minister added: “They think they can live all by themselves and, what’s more, lash out at Europe. And because that’s not working they raise the stakes and become aggressive.”

Last week, Girardin said London may be playing hardball on fishing in order to press its demands on other thorny post-Brexit discussions such as migrants seeking to cross the Channel.

Member comments

  1. The fishing agreement is between the EU and UK. France is not a party to it. It seems the EU doesn’t support the French reading of the Agreement and that the French have over-promised their fishermen. All very unfortunate but when you sign up to the EU you sign away a lot of control.

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CRIME

Pressure mounts on France’s new disabilities minister to resign over rape allegations

French President Emmanuel Macron's newly appointed disabilities minister was facing mounting pressure to resign on Monday after the emergence of rape allegations from over a decade ago.

Pressure mounts on France's new disabilities minister to resign over rape allegations

The accusations against Damien Abad, which he denies, are a major headache for Macron and his new Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne as they seek to keep political momentum after his April presidential poll victory and ahead of June parliamentary elections.

They also come after several politicians running for parliament stepped down in recent weeks over alleged violence against women.

The appointment of Abad as minister for solidarities and people with disabilities in a reshuffle on Friday was seen as a major coup for Macron, as the 42-year-old had defected from the right wing opposition.

READ ALSO Who’s who in France’s new government 

But the next day, the Mediapart news site reported a politics watchdog group created by members of France’s MeToo movement had informed prosecutors as well as Macron’s LREM party of rape claims against Abad by two women in 2010 and 2011.

The government’s new spokeswoman Olivia Gregoire on Monday denied that Macron and his government were aware of the allegations when Abad had been appointed.

One of the women told Mediapart that in 2010 she blacked out after accepting a glass of champagne and woke up in her underwear in pain with Abad in a hotel room, and believes she may have been drugged.

She has not filed an official complaint, but prosecutors are looking into the case following a report filed by the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics.

The other woman, named only as Margaux, said that her sexual encounter with Abad in 2011 began as consensual, but accuses him of then forcing anal sex on her.

The report said she informed the police in 2012 but then declined to formally make a complaint, and her subsequent claim in 2017 was later dismissed by prosecutors.

“I’m relieved that it’s come out, because I knocked on quite a few doors so that someone would do something after the case was dismissed, as I thought it was unfair,” Margaux told AFP on Sunday.

“A lot of people knew but some preferred to look away rather than ask more questions,” she added.

Abad said in a statement he contested “in the strongest way” the allegations, arguing his own disability means he is incapable of sexually assaulting anyone.

The newly appointed minister has arthrogryposis, a rare condition that affects the joints, which he says means sexual relations can only occur with the help of a partner.

The allegations overshadowed the new cabinet’s first meeting on Monday, with Gregoire facing a string of questions on the case.

“The government is with those who, following an assault or harassment, have the immense courage to speak out,” Gregoire told reporters.

She added it is up to the judicial system to establish the truth and that, to her knowledge, “no other procedure against Damien Abad is in the works”.

But politicians on the left called for his immediate resignation.

“If I were prime minister, I would tell Damien Abad: ‘I have no particular reason to believe the women are lying… While we wait for a decision from the judicial system, I wish for you not to be part of the government,'” Socialist Party leader Olivier Faure told France Inter radio.

Green politician Sandrine Rousseau also called for Abad to go.

“We need to send a loud enough message to women, that their voices count,” Rousseau told RTL radio.

Borne, herself only appointed last week in the reshuffle, said on Sunday there could be no impunity for harassment and sexual assault.

“If there is new information, if a new complaint is filed, we will draw all the consequences,” Borne said.

In 2020, Macron’s decision to appoint Gérald Darmanin as interior minister – although he was accused of rape, sexual harassment and abuse of power – drew heavy criticism, even sparking demonstrations.

Darmanin, who kept his job in the reshuffle, has denied any wrongdoing and prosecutors in January asked for the case to be dropped.

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