UK could trigger EU dispute over French fish row: PM

Rome (AFP) – Britain's Boris Johnson complained to EU chief Ursula Von Der Leyen on Saturday that French threats over fishing were "completely unjustified" as he held out the option of invoking a Brexit dispute tool for the first time.


For her part, she tweeted that the European Commission was "intensively engaging for finding solutions" on both the fishing row and another linked row with Brussels over the Brexit pact for Northern Ireland.

During talks on the sidelines of the G20 in Rome, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson "raised his concerns about the rhetoric from the French government in recent days over the issue of fishing licences", his office said.

Johnson "stressed that the French threats are completely unjustified and do not appear to be compatible" with a pact governing Britain's divorce from the European Union.

France is incensed that Britain and the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey have not issued some French boats licences to fish in their waters post-Brexit.

France has warned that unless licences are approved it will ban UK boats from unloading their catches at French ports from next week and impose checks on all products brought to France from Britain.

Johnson earlier said that, in response to the deal, he has not ruled out invoking an as-yet untested dispute settlement process allowed under the terms of Britain's divorce from the European Union.

"No of course not, I don't rule that out," Johnson told Sky News in Rome, after Britain on Friday warned it may implement new checks on all EU fishing boats.

However, Johnson has also emphasised his close personal ties with French President Emmanuel Macron -- and their body language at the G20 suggested friendly relations.

At a side meeting Saturday on Iran with the US and German leaders, Johnson and Macron exchanged friendly pats on the back.

As they arrived for the leaders' "family photo" at the start of the summit, Johnson gave Macron a mock-combative fist bump, although they did not appear to speak to one another.

A brief tete-a-tete is intended at some point over the weekend.

"What I think everybody wants to see is cooperation between the European allies and Emmanuel Macron," Johnson said.

Meanwhile, Macron said that Britain's "credibility" was on the line in the dispute, accusing London of ignoring the Brexit deal agreed after years of tortuous negotiations.

"When you spend years negotiating a treaty and then a few months later you do the opposite of what was decided on the aspects that suit you the least, it is not a big sign of your credibility," he told the Financial Times.

In his Sky interview, Johnson retorted: "If there is a (French) breach of the treaty or we think there is a breach of the treaty, then we will do what is necessary to protect British interests."

But in the buildup to COP26, he stressed that the fishing dispute "is quite frankly small beer, trivial, by comparison with the threat to humanity that we face".