Before alleging British officials breached the Brexit pact first, a French minister warned there would be “some retaliation” if the UK did not authorise fishing licences.
The controversy began, according to Bruno Bonnell, a member of the French parliament who belongs to the same party as Emmanuel Macron, because of a lack of licences for France’s trawlers. One UK trawler has been held in a French port, escalating a diplomatic spat sparked by France’s accusation that French vessels do not have licences to fish in UK seas.
If the matter is not handled by Tuesday, French officials have threatened to restrict British boats from several French ports and increase inspections on vessels travelling between France and the UK and endangering the Channel Islands’ electrical supply.
Mr Bonnell, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, said: “I like the idea that France is threatening, but I like the idea too that we have 244 boats waiting for their licence to fish, and that’s where the whole thing started.”
“It’s like a chicken and egg situation, now the blame is on France when it was originally on someone else.”
“Let’s say that we will break no law for sure. Let’s say that the law we’re respecting, we’d just like this to be applied.”
“You won’t break the law, but you are willing to just go a little bit slow when it comes to approving licences, doing custom checks for boats and lorries?” questioned presenter Nick Robinson.
Mr Bonnell went on to say: “Yes, talk about it to the French fishermen who will be losing 25 percent of their business every month because they don’t get the licence.”
“If we do face a situation where there is a blockade, there will be some retaliation.”
“I don’t know if it’s fair or not, I just know the whole thing started because the principle of the deal out of Brexit was broken by the British authorities.”
George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, would not rule out banning French warships in retaliation for France’s Europe Minister Clement Beaune’s declaration that the only language Britain knows is “the language of force”.
“That is totally provocative and is the wrong way to go about things,” Mr Eustice told BBC Breakfast.
“Two may play at that game,” the Cabinet member said when asked how the UK would react if France went ahead and blocked British trawlers.
“It’s always open to us to increase the enforcement we do on French vessels, to board more of them if that’s what they’re doing to our vessels – there are other administrative things we can require of vessels.” he said, insisting that any British reaction would be “proportionate.”
When asked whether the government might prevent French ships from landing their catches in the UK, he said, “If the French obviously do continue with this, then yes, we will take a proportionate response to that.”
Mr Eustice admitted that France’s detention of the British vessel was a “routine operation” but claimed it drew widespread notice because French officials last week “said they were going to introduce all sorts of problems and make life difficult for people”.
France’s warning is likely to be illegal under EU law, according to Britain, and Ms Truss has said she would ask the ambassador to “explain the disappointing and disproportionate threats made against the UK and Channel Islands”.
Ministers from the United Kingdom gathered on Thursday to discuss the reaction, possibly retaliation if France follows through on its threats.
“I remain concerned by French plans on fisheries and beyond,” said Lord Frost, who chaired the meeting, adding that “we expect to have more to say” on Friday.