Macron extends deadline for U.K. to authorize more French boats in its waters

French President Emmanuel Macron has extended the deadline for British authorities to license more French fishing boats, the Associated Press reported.

The United Kingdom now has until November 4 to authorize more French ships onto their waters. If they do not comply with the extension, British boats could be banned from some French ports. Further, vessels carrying British goods could be subject to intense scrutiny.

France and the United Kingdom have storied histories with fishing. The countries have often controlled their waters, and each side accuses the other of violating the Brexit trade deal.

As the new deadline looms, many French fishers have expressed their frustrations with the Channel Islands hesitating to agree to the deal. The Channel Islands are self-governing British crown dependencies that France says haven’t given out enough licenses. In particular, the island of Jersey appears to be holding back on the licenses despite France’s threats.

“I don’t know why they are causing problems. Even the English don’t quite understand why Jersey is resisting,” trawler owner Samuel Deshayes told AP.

However, the end to the tensions between France and the United Kingdom could be on the horizon. An unnamed spokesperson for the French presidency has said that discussions “are advancing.”

“Neither us nor the British want this to go badly,” the spokesperson said.

For more reporting by the Associated Press, see below.

French Trawler Departs
A French trawler heading to U.K waters leaves the port of Granville, Normandy, on November 2, 2021. The British government now has until November 4 to approve the licenses of boats like these.
AP Photo/Jeremias Gonzalez

French trawler owners in Normandy have reacted with confusion and consternation after Macron extended the deadline.

“We don’t know what to expect. We learn new things every day,” Deshayes said in Granville, a coastal commune in Normandy not far from the British island of Jersey in the English Channel. “We will not give up until everyone has obtained a license.”

Fishing is a tiny industry economically for both countries but with outsized diplomatic importance, and the dispute is an important test for Britain’s relations with the European Union after the U.K.’s withdrawal from the EU.

While preparing at 4 a.m. to head out from Granville to trawl for scallops and sea snails, fisherman Jimmy Montreuil said he feels “in the dark” about how long he’ll be able to fish freely. The area is also rich with lobster, sea bream and other fish.

The government of Jersey has reacted by issuing 49 temporary licenses to French boats this week. It said the vessels will be able to fish in Jersey waters until January 31 to “grant time” for further data that is necessary for it to issue permanent licenses.

Emmanuel Lecoufle, owner of French trawler Arc en Ciel in Granville, said that the new permits are “not enough. There are still 200 boats pending. It is nothing at all, 49 licenses,” he said.

Meanwhile, the French trawler owners who were granted extended licenses said they still don’t understand what will happen next.

Macron’s office said Monday that talks would continue this week and no measures would be taken before a Thursday meeting.

The British government has said throughout the dispute that it isn’t engaged in a negotiation and it is entirely up to France to end the conflict.

The government in London welcomed Macron’s decision to extend the deadline and said a meeting in Paris on Thursday between Britain’s Brexit minister, David Frost, and French Europe Minister Clement Beaune would cover a range of issues—not just fishing.

“We’ve always said we want to deescalate this and always said we have an ever-open door to discuss any further evidence France or the EU might have on any additional vessels they’d like to have licensed,” British environment minister George Eustice told Sky News.

Eustice said it appears that a British scallop dredger—the Cornelis Gert Jan—that French authorities impounded last month has been released.

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