The UK’s Boris Johnson and France’s Emmanuel Macron are heading for a full frontal collision in the next 48 hours that will bleed into the United Nations’ climate summit.
The French government on Tuesday is set to introduce additional controls on goods moving across its border with the UK and block British fishing boats from unloading their catches in France in retaliation for what it sees as unjustified restrictions on French trawlers.
At a Sunday meeting in Rome aimed at defusing the clash, the two couldn’t even agree on what they had said. Neither leader backed down in their own separate news conferences at the end of the Group of 20 summit.
While a Macron aide briefed that the two leaders would work together to find a way to deliver licenses to French boats ahead of the deadline, Johnson’s spokesman Max Blain said it was up to Paris to make the first move. Macron said the ball was in the UK’s court, that a new methodology had been proposed and that France was poised to take retaliatory measures.
“On fish, I’ve got to tell you the position is unchanged, he said. “I hope tomorrow we get a response.
The fight between Britain and France has been one of the biggest issues hanging over the G-20. Although the fishing rights at stake represent only a fraction of each countries’ economy, the ill will that the dispute has generated is threatening to poison much bigger issues, like the European Union’s post-Brexit relationship with the UK and even efforts to tackle climate change.
Most of the G-20 leaders are traveling from Rome to Glasgow for another two days of talks where Johnson, as host, is aiming to lock in firmer commitments on cutting carbon emissions. Johnson has said it will be “extremely tough to secure meaningful pledges from the world’s major emitters in Glasgow and the talks in Rome over the weekend offered little encouragement.
The French trade sanctions on the UK are set to coincide with the leaders’ final day in Glasgow -- right when Johnson will be aiming to pin down a deal.
The Macron government says that 40 percent of the detailed French requests for licenses to fish in UK waters are still pending 10 months after the trade agreement was signed -- and that requests from other EU members have all been processed.
“For the EU as a whole, around 90 percent of the expected licenses have been granted, but all the missing ones are French, France’s EU affairs minister, Clement Beaune, said on Twitter Sunday. “When such a significant amount of licenses, targeting one country, is missing, it’s not a technical issue, it’s a political choice.
The UK government says it has granted 98 percent of license applications from EU vessels since Brexit.
What’s more, Blain said that the measures the French have set out would constitute a breach of the trade agreement between Britain and the EU and that the UK is preparing its own response.
“We would expect any member state to work within the realms of the agreed treaty, Blain said. “We stand ready to respond should they proceed with breaking the Brexit agreement.
The French have insisted that any action would comply with the terms of the accord.