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UK warns could board more French boats in fishing dispute

Britain's Environment Secretary George Eustice walks outside the Science Museum, following a cabinet meeting in London on October 19, 2021. (Photo by Reuters)

The UK has warned France over the seizure of a British scallop dredger in French territorial waters, saying London could order the boarding of more French vessels in retaliation for the move.

British Environment Secretary George Eustice made the remarks on Friday, after French authorities fined two British boats, with one detained at the northern port of Le Havre, amid an escalation of a post-Brexit fishing dispute between the two sides.

"Obviously it's always open to us to always increase the enforcement that we do on French vessels, to board more of them if that's what they're doing to our vessels," Eustice said.

"There are other administrative things that we can require of vessels. It's not something that we want to get into," he added.

Eustice further noted that for now, the UK government is trying to resolve the issue with the European Commission as well as France's ambassador to London.

"We obviously reserve the ability to be able to respond in a proportionate way," he added.  

On Wednesday, France seized the British trawler Cornelis Gert Jan fishing in its territorial waters and issued a warning to a second vessel, claiming that they did not have a license.

The two countries are at loggerheads over licensing rules for EU boats seeking to operate in waters around Britain and the Channel Islands.

Paris also announced retaliatory measures if there was no progress in its post-Brexit fishing row with London.

It said the measures include time-consuming checks on all products and a ban on UK vessels landing seafood.

The French government said it is also considering a second round of sanctions that could affect power supplies to the UK, whose energy market is already facing a turmoil with several suppliers bankrupted.

The UK government has already warned that French threats to disrupt British trade by blocking its trawlers will be met with an “appropriate and calibrated” response.

The UK summoned the French ambassador on Thursday over the seizure of the British boat and "threats" made over post-Brexit fishing rights.

This came after France's Prime Minister Jean Castex offered to open talks to resolve the increasingly bitter row.

France says Britain has refused to grant its fishermen the full number of licenses to operate in British waters that France says is warranted.

According to French officials, over 200 French fishermen are awaiting licenses to ply waters between six and 12 miles from British shores, and particularly around Jersey.

Also on Friday, French Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie said there was no progress in talks between France and Britain over post-Brexit fishing licenses, adding it was right for France to consider sanctions against the UK.

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