Give fishing licences to skippers, not boats, say French as row rumbles on

France is demanding that skippers, not boats, be handed fishing licences for British waters as the price for ending the bitter dispute over post-Brexit arrangements.

Both sides remained deadlocked over the issue after Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, travelled to Paris on Thursday for talks with Clement Beaune, France’s Europe minister.

Paris believes that fishermen have been denied licences despite having a history of fishing British waters, because they have recently changed boats.

Poll: Who is in the right over the fishing row

Speaking after their meeting, Mr Beaune confirmed a “disagreement” over so-called “replacement vessels” was holding up progress, but agreed to hold off on the threat of sanctions for weeks while talks continue.

It came as a British trawler impounded by France in a dispute over post-Brexit fishing rights arrived back in the UK on Thursday, after being released by French authorities.

Jondy Ward, the boat’s captain, had been free to leave but wanted to stay with his vessel, his lawyer said.

Good mood in talks, despite disagreement

Accusing the Government of rowing back on its commitments in the Brexit trade deal, he said: “It was accepted in the agreement that there could be boats that had fished in recent years in British waters and have been replaced, as it happens in the fishing sector that there is a change of ownership.

“We are in disagreement over what ‘replacement’ means in the agreement. The British have added criteria on ownership that were not in the original agreement.

“We are asking for a return to the agreement, namely to maintain the fishing volume capacity and not demand continuity in fishing boat ownership.”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman welcomed that France had made it clear they are not looking to hit Britain with sanctions in the coming days.

“The French Government have been clear they are not looking to proceed with those threats,” the aide said.

And despite the lack of movement in the talks, a senior government source hailed the positive atmosphere between Lord Frost and Mr Beaune.

“Although there was no change in our positions, the mood in Paris was good,” the source said. “We’re glad that the French want to keep talking and haven’t yet followed through on their unlawful threats.”

Fishing waters around the UK

Under the Brexit fisheries agreement, boats must prove they have historic fishing activity between 2012 and 2016 in Britain’s coastal waters, before they are granted access to the six to 12 nautical mile zone.

The Telegraph understands that talks over the definition of replacement vessels have yet to yield a deal, but any movement could unblock further progress and end the wider dispute.

Jersey has already signalled it is willing to be more flexible in granting licences to such vessels.

Lord Frost told his counterpart that French boats “must provide the necessary licence if they want a licence” and said he would next week hold further talks with Mr Beaune, a government source said.

Retaliation remains an option

British officials believe Emmanuel Macron dropped planned sanctions after Boris Johnson threatened to sue over any disruption at Calais.

Downing Street is confident that both Paris and Brussels know any attempt to block access to ports or increase checks on British lorries would be a breach of the Brexit trade agreement, and open the door to counter measures.

But Mr Beaune insisted the retaliatory plans remain on the table, in case Britain refuses to compromise.

He added: “As long as dialogue seems possible we are giving it a chance. We need to accelerate progress.”

Paris won’t agree to a “trade off” between extra fishing licences and concessions in the separate discussions over post-Brexit rules in Northern Ireland, according to Mr Beaune.

He said: “All Europeans are very clear. We will not do a trade-off between the protocol and fishing. It doesn’t work like that.”

Lord Frost will meet Maros Sefcovic, a European Commission vice-president, in Brussels on Friday for further talks over fishing and the Northern Ireland Protocol.

At the same time, separate technical talks over fishing rights will also take place between EU and UK officials.

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