Boris Johnson warned of bumpy ride as EU members rally behind France

Brexit: PM warned of 'bumpy ride' with the EU and France

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Sir Peter Westmacott told LBC’s Tom Swarbrick that the EU traditionally “stand by” fellow member states when there is a problem and the post-Brexit fishing row involving the number of fishing licences granted to the French to fish UK waters, is a prime example of such a problem which they will pile in behind.

The former ambassador warned: “The European Union does work together, there is something called member state solidarity, many countries outside Europe have witnessed that.

“And it is a fact of life the European Union does stand by its member states usually, almost always, when there is a problem.”

But Sir Westmacott was clear that the relationship between the UK and France has always been one where we are “the best of enemies or the worst of friends”.

He also added how despite the ongoing difference “we have got some many common interests” but added it will still be a “bumpy ride” for Boris Johnson in the coming weeks.

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Host Tom Swarbrick suggested how much of the language at play feels as if it is “playing to the galleries”, a reference to French President Emmanuel Macron’s election bid in next years presidential elections, which some observers have argued is dictating his attitude towards the ongoing fishing row.

The comments from the former ambassador follow a furious rebuke by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to a letter penned by French PM Jean Castex who called on Britain to be punished for Brexit and the fishing row in a ferocious open letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Speaking from the G20 in Rome on Sunday, Mr Johnson hammered: “I’ll just say this for the record: I must say I was puzzled to read a letter from the French Prime Minister explicitly asking for Britain to be punished for leaving the EU!

“I just have to say to everybody I don’t think that is compatible either with the spirit or the letter of the Withdrawal Agreement or the Trade and Cooperation Agreement. That is all I will say about that one!”

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Mr Johnson was clear the position on fishing rights and licences remains “unchanged” for Britain.

In the blistering letter, Prime Minister Castex wrote: “The uncooperative attitude of the United Kingdom today risks not only causing great harm to fishermen, mainly French, but also for the [European] Union in that it sets a precedent for the future and challenges our credibility and our ability to assert our rights with regard to international commitments signed by the union.

“It, therefore, seems necessary for the European Union to show its total determination to obtain full respect for the agreement by the United Kingdom and to assert its rights by using the levers at its disposal in a firm, united and proportionate manner.

“It is essential to clearly show to European public opinion that respect for subscribed engagement is non-negotiable and that there is more damage in leaving the union than in remaining there.”

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He suggested to Ms Von der Leyen that they could impose “customs duties on certain fishery products” as punishment in a furious call for action against the UK.

The comments follow months of chaos in Britain’s waters following a post-Brexit agreement that stated the French must apply for new licences in order to continue to fish in the 6-to-12 nautical-mile zone of UK waters.

France have since accused Britain of not following their side of the deal, arguing they have not been handed the agreed number of boat licences. Britain has denied that it has not been playing fairly.

Despite claims by the French, UK fishing licensing bodies insist a raft of French fishing boats did not correctly submit the evidence required to prove they have fished in British waters before Brexit, a requirement under the new rules.

The row has now reached boiling point after the French have threatened to blockade British fishing vessels landing their catch in French ports, a move that could bring the British fishing industry to its knees, if the dispute is not solved by Tuesday.

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