Britain could order the boarding of more French vessels in retaliation for the detention by France of a British scallop trawler in French waters, a British minister said as a post-Brexit fishing dispute escalated.
The captain of the British boat will face a court hearing next year, said French authorities on Friday.
Cyrille Fournier, who represents the prosecutor’s office for the French port of Le Havresaid in a statement that the captain of the Cornelis Gert Jan boat had been asked to appear in court on August 11, 2022.
He added that the trawler did not have the required licences to operate in those parts of French territorial waters. This has been denied by Scottish company Macduff Shellfish, which used the boat and has said it did have the appropriate licences.
Britain’s foreign minister has summoned France’s ambassador to London to explain Paris’ actions later on Friday.
“Obviously it’s always open to us to always increase the enforcement that we do on French vessels, to board more of them if that’s what they’re doing to our vessels,” British Environment Secretary George Eustice told BBC television.
“There are other administrative things that we can require of vessels. It’s not something that we want to get into.”
The Cornelis Gert Jan, a scallop dredger, was escorted to the northern port of Le Havre after its crew failed to prove it was allowed to fish in French territorial waters, according to French officials.
Eustice said London’s focus for now was trying to resolve the issue with the European Commission and with France’s ambassador to London.
“We obviously reserve the ability to be able to respond in a proportionate way, ” Eustice said.
France has listed potential sanctions against Britain if there is no progress in talks, including extra customs checks on British goods from Nov. 2 and what was seen in London as a threat to cut electricity exports to Britain if talks fail.
French Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie told France 2 TV on Friday that there was no progress in talks between France and Britain over post-Brexit fishing licences, and said it was right for France to consider sanctions against the UK.
Thierry Breton, the French politician who is also the European Commission’s internal market commissioner, said on Friday he understood France’s position on the row between Paris and London over post-Brexit fishing licences.
“I completely understand the position and the exasperation of France. The support of the European Commission is there and it always has been from the start,” said Breton – who earlier this week described Brexit as a “catastrophe” for the UK – to France Info radio.