Brexit fishing talks breakthrough as UK grants licences to French vessels

 Brexit fishing talks breakthrough as UK grants licences to French vessels

French fishermen were handed a further 23 licences to operate in British and Jersey waters in an attempt to ease tensions in the post-Brexit fish wars.

Negotiators missed the French-imposed deadline of midnight on Friday for solving the cross-Channel dispute, with decisions on another seven permits yet to be made. But Paris showed no signs of pursuing legal action in the long-running battle.

In separate statements issued on Saturday, both the UK Government and European Commission acknowledged that their recent intensive technical talks resulted in more small boat licences being granted.

The breakthrough came after talks on Friday evening between George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, and Virginijus Sinkevicius, the European Commissioner responsible for fisheries, over a deal that allows some French skippers to transfer their historic fishing rights to new boats.

France had threatened to trigger legal action against Britain if there was not a “gesture of goodwill” in the wrangling over fishing rights in time for the midnight deadline [FRI] set by Paris.

“The UK has issued 18 licences for EU replacement vessels in UK territorial waters and five licences for EU vessels to access Jersey waters,” a European Commission spokeswoman said on Saturday, after negotiations stretched late into the night.

“Further technical discussions will continue with the aim to have seven additional replacement vessels licences by the end of Monday.”

Before Saturday’s announcement, Emmanuel Macron, France’s President, was asking for a total of 104 permits for its fishermen to operate in British waters, but in a climbdown signalled it was willing to accept “a few dozen more” to allow the long-running talks to continue. 

His government has already been forced to drop threats to bring cross-Channel trade to a standstill with extra checks on lorries arriving from Dover after failing to win EU support for the punitive action.

Britain argued many applications for the outstanding licences had been unacceptable because fishermen had failed to prove they had fished four days out of 1,460 between 2012 and 2016 to gain a permit to operate UK waters.

Denying a concession to placate the French, a Government spokesman said it had adopted an “evidence-based approach” throughout the talks and where fishing data had not been provided “licences have not been issued”.

“On direct replacement vessels, we have taken an approach in line with the Trade and Cooperation Agreement which provides stability and ensures the sustainability of our fisheries,” the aide added.

“Following receipt of new evidence from the Commission, the UK licensed 18 replacement vessels on the basis of this methodology. Further technical work on seven more licences for direct replacement vessels is scheduled to conclude on Monday.”

Jersey also announced that it had granted a further five permits, following receipt of new data. The Crown Dependency has now issued a total of 130 licences to operate in its territorial waters.

“This now concludes this phase of intensive talks on licensing,” the spokesman said.

French posturing made reaching deal earlier more difficult 

European officials had hoped for an earlier deal, but conceded French posturing over fishing rights had made the task more difficult.

“If they’d just left it to the experts, we’d have been closer to a deal by now,” an EU source told the Telegraph.

Government sources said they had gone to “great lengths” to help French vessels prove their historical fishing activity, including purchasing commercial positioning data.

The process of issuing licences had been based on “evidence rather than deadlines”, they added, with talks set to continue over future permits.

The Government has also reached a separate deal with Norway and the EU over how to divide fish stocks in the North Sea next year.

Officials said the agreed catch limits were worth about £190 million to the fishing industry, based on historical prices.

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