France and Britain agreed on Thursday to step up efforts to resolve a fishing row, but much remains to be done and all options are on the table should talks fail, French European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune said.
Beaune was speaking after meeting British Brexit minister David Frost in Paris, days after France and Britain came to the brink of a cross-Channel trade war over fishing.
At the heart of the dispute is the number of licences London allocated to French boats in the wake of Britain’s exit from the European Union. France says many are missing, while London says it is respecting the deal.
Thursday’s meeting was “useful and positive”, with more talks due next week, Beaune said, welcoming a new “state of mind” in the relationship and adding that he had agreed with Frost to intensify talks on the licences.
France had threatened to step up checks on trucks and produce from Britain and to bar British trawlers from French ports. But it pulled back at the last minute on Monday to allow a fresh attempt to negotiate a solution.
“All options are still on the table,” Beaune said, adding: “as long as dialogue seems possible … we are giving it a chance, with no naivety … and with a requirement to see results.”
“There is still a lot of work to do,” he said, adding that France was still missing about 200 fishing licences.
Britain echoed some of Beaune’s comments on Thursday, with both sides saying the ministers would talk again early next week.
“As foreshadowed, they discussed the range of difficulties arising from the application of the agreements between the UK and the EU. Both sides set out their positions and concerns,” a British government spokesperson said.
After a meeting that lasted about an hour and a half, Beaune and Frost shook hands on the steps of the ministry, smiling and chatting in front of TV cameras. Beaune also posted a picture of the two shaking hands in front of the British, French and EU flags.
Frost will meet European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic in Brussels on Friday, the UK spokesperson said.
Britain and France have argued for decades over access to the fishing grounds around their Channel coasts, an issue which also dogged years of Brexit negotiations before Britain completed its withdrawal at the end of 2020.
The latest dispute erupted in September over the number of post-Brexit fishing licences. France seized a British scallop dredger, which has since been released.
Reasserting British control over its fishing grounds was a central plank of the case for Brexit that Prime Minister Boris Johnson presented to British voters. The issue is also sensitive for French President Emmanuel Macron ahead of next year’s presidential election.
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