Britain denounced France’s seizure of a British boat in French waters and warned Paris against further retaliation on Thursday, in a rapidly deteriorating row over post-Brexit fishing rights.
French Seas Minister Annick Girardin said the Cornelis Gert Jan, a scallop dredger, was escorted to the northern port of Le Havre overnight after its crew failed to prove it was allowed to fish in French territorial waters. A second British vessel was given a verbal warning.
The action signalled France’s determination not to back down in the row, a day after listing potential sanctions against Britain if there is no progress in talks.
They include extra customs checks on British goods from Nov. 2 and what was widely seen in London as a threat to cut electricity exports to Britain if talks fail.
“It’s not war, but it is a fight,” Girardin told RTL radio.
British fishing grounds are among the richest in the North East Atlantic zone, where most of the European Union’s catch is hauled in.
France’s actions appear intended as a warning shot to put pressure on Britain to compromise at talks with the EU.
The British government said the French reaction was “disappointing and disproportionate, and not what we would expect from a close ally and partner”.
Environment Minister George Eustice challenged France’s statement that the boat had no licence, and told parliament the steps threatened by France appeared to be incompatible with a post-Brexit free-trade agreement and wider international law.