French workers fish plant mackerels
French workers fillet mackerels in a fish processing plant in the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, January 29, 2020. Image Credit: Reuters

London: The UK said Thursday that a threat by France to block British boats from its ports in a dispute over fishing appeared to breach international law, and the government vowed to retaliate if Paris goes ahead with the move.

France announced Wednesday that it will bar British fishing boats from some French ports starting next week if no deal is reached with the UK in a dispute over fishing licenses. It also suggested it may restrict energy supplies to the Channel Islands, British Crown dependencies that lie off the coast of France.

“France’s threats are disappointing and disproportionate, and not what we would expect from a close ally and partner,” the UK said.

It said the measures “do not appear to be compatible” with the UK-EU Brexit withdrawal agreement “and wider international law, and, if carried through, will be met with an appropriate and calibrated response.”

Since the UK left the economic orbit of the European Union at the start of the year, relations between London and Paris have become increasingly frayed.

France vehemently protested the decision last month by the UK and the Channel Island of Jersey to refuse dozens of French fishing boats licenses to operate in their territorial waters. France says the restrictions are contrary to the post-Brexit agreement that the British government signed when it left the EU.

More licences

After weeks of negotiations, British authorities have issued more fishing licences but the number still only accounts for 50% of what France believes it “is entitled to,” French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said Wednesday.

The French ministers for Europe and for maritime affairs said in a joint statement Wednesday that if no agreement is reached by Nov. 2, France will bar British fishing boats from designated ports and tighten customs, security and other controls on any British boats and trucks travelling between France and Britain.

France said it also “doesn’t exclude” measures in the coming weeks that would target energy supplies to Britain, the statement said. Attal specified that meant the Channel Islands, which are closer to French shores than British ones and rely heavily on electricity supplied by the French grid.

“We have worked with the British, we gave them all the requested data, documents, information to back these (license) requests,” Attal said. “Our patience has reached its limits today.”

Britain says it has granted 98% of fishing license applications from European vessels, but there is a dispute over 31 vessels which the UK says did not supply evidence to support their applications.

Jersey, which is only 22 kilometers off the French coast, is a British Crown dependency outside of the UK. As such, it has its own powers over who is allowed to fish in its territorial waters. It has granted licences based on its interpretation of the UK-EU trade deal, and has accused France of acting disproportionately.