Brexit fishing row: UK says Royal Navy could board French vessels

Rhetoric intensifies as David Frost calls Paris manoeuvres ‘unjustified’ and threatens to launch dispute settlement proceedings

French and other EU fishing boats can expect to be boarded by the Royal Navy and coastguard when in British waters and a process will be triggered that could lead to tariffs on the bloc’s exports to Britain if Paris acts on its recent threats, Brussels has been warned. David Frost, the UK’s Brexit minister, hit out at the “unjustified” measures that the French government has said it will impose from next Tuesday over a row about fishing access, during a meeting with the EU commissioner, Maroš Šefčovič.

Šefčovič was told that Downing Street would consider “launching dispute settlement proceedings” and subject all EU vessels to “rigorous enforcement processes and checks” when in British waters. Fisheries protection is carried out by both the coastguard and Royal Navy river-class patrol vessels, two of which are understood be in a state of “high readiness” given the current crisis.

The warning from London followed the French government’s announcement earlier this week that it will from Tuesday impose heightened customs and health checks on British goods, potentially impose a ban on boats landing fish, and scrutinise UK vessels’ security, environmental standards and crew. The measures, to be enforced at the ports of Cherbourg, Granville, Barneville-Carteret, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Le Havre and Brest, will only be lifted if the UK and Jersey provide more licences for French vessels seeking to fish in their coastal waters, French ministers have said.

A UK government spokesman said Frost had set out “concerns about the unjustified measures announced by France earlier this week to disrupt UK fisheries and wider trade, to threaten energy supplies, and to block further cooperation between the UK and the EU, for example on the Horizon research programme”. Frost told Šefčovič that France’s actions would be in breach of the trade and cooperation agreement between the EU and the UK, and that resolution or even compensation would be sought through the levers in that deal. The French ambassador to the UK, Catherine Colonna, was asked to explain the French position after being summoned by the Europe minister, Wendy Morton, on Friday.