BRUSSELS: Britain has granted another 23 licences to French fishermen, a government spokesperson said Saturday, a day after a deadline set by Paris to resolve a post-Brexit battle over fishing rights.
The EU had set London a December 10 deadline to grant licences to dozens of French fishing boats under a Brexit deal signed last year, with Paris threatening European legal action if no breakthrough emerged.
The licences were agreed Friday night after British officials met European Union counterparts and followed what the spokesman called an “evidence-based approach” ensuring vessels qualify to work in UK waters.
The spokesperson added that the approach “provides stability and ensures the sustainability of our fisheries”, with the UK granting 18 licences and the Channel Island of Jersey five.
The EU hailed the agreement as “an important step in a long process” towards implementing the 2020 Brexit agreement and said work continued to license seven more vessels by Monday.
But France said it would “continue to work” to obtain a further 80 licences it insists its fishing fleet is entitled to.
France had previously said 104 of its boats still lacked licences to operate in British and Channel Island waters that should have been granted under the Brexit agreement.
With the 23 permits granted Saturday, France is still seeking 81 approvals having received 1,027 in total so far.
Under the deal, EU fishermen can continue to work in British waters if they can prove they used to fish there.
“This work has accelerated in recent days... France and the EU continue to work together to ensure the full application of the trade and cooperation agreement,” said Fisheries Minister Annick Girardin and European Minister Clement Beaune in a joint statement.
Paris had threatened to lodge a complaint with the European Commission over the dispute.
That could have seen the EU impose financial penalties or even tariffs on British goods if Britain was judged to be reneging on its commitments.
Some 83 vessels have received licences since the EU attempted to intensify negotiations over outstanding applications in late November, according to Brussels.
French fishermen last month disrupted cross-Channel ferry and freight traffic in protest at the post-Brexit arrangements and consequent loss of trade.
Half a dozen fishing boats blocked access to ferries at the northern port of Calais and the port of Ouistreham in Normandy to the west.
In May, protesting French trawlers massed in front of Jersey’s main port and even caused a brief standoff with Royal Navy vessels.
The UK is highly dependent on French ports, particularly for fresh food imports, and any extended blockade would have the potential to have a significant impact.
The EU and Britain are also locked in a separate trade row over checks on products entering the British province of Northern Ireland after the UK government unilaterally postponed the introduction of checks.
The dispute has exacerbated deteriorating bilateral relations between Britain and France, who have clashed this year over migrant crossings in the English Channel, post-Brexit trade arrangements and submarine sales to Australia.