Brexit fishing row: French MP threatens to stop migrant border checks

Migrant checks by British guards could be stopped in Calais – allowing more stowaways to enter the UK – in latest retaliation over post-Brexit fishing licences, French MP warns

  • French minister has made fresh threat to the UK in post-Brexit row over fishing 
  • Jean-Pierre Pont, MP for the fishing community of Boulogne-sur-Mer, said key migration treaty could be torn up if more licences aren’t granted
  • Touquet Treaty allows the UK to set up border control points on French soil
  • Tearing up the deal would mean border checks could only be done on British soil, allowing more migrants to cross the Channel

The row between the UK and France over post-Brexit fishing access entered a new phase today as a French MP threatened to tear up a key migration treaty. 

Jean-Pierre Pont, MP for the fishing community of Boulogne-sur-Mer, said the French government should consider scrapping the Touquet Treaty which allows the UK to set up border checkpoints on French soil.

Scrapping the deal would mean stowaway migrants would only be stopped once they are already on British soil, where they can claim asylum. 

Mr Pont, a minister in Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche party, urged ministers to take firm action or risk furious fishermen ‘taking the law into their own hands’ by blockading British ports.

France should consider tearing up a treaty that allows British border checks to be carried out on French soil, stopping migrant stowaways before they reach the UK (pictured)

Speaking after a virtual summit with French seas minister Annick Giradin and Europe minister Clement Beaune, Mr Pont said: ‘As for Le Touquet, I think it could go as far as threatening to revoke it.

‘They [fishermen] are all furious and prepared to do everything to get the Brexit accords respected.

‘When there are agreements, one must respect them all. We would be happy to continue with Le Touquet as long as the UK respects the Brexit deals and gives what it has promised.’

Under the Brexit deal, French fishermen were told they would still be allowed access to UK waters – with reduced quotas – but would have to provide evidence they have fished there in the past.

Jean-Pierre Pont, a member of Emmanuel Macron’s party, made the threat in row over post-Brexit fishing rights

Since then, fishing fleets applying for the licences have seen just a small number granted – sparking a standoff earlier this year in the waters around Jersey.

The latest round of fighting was sparked when just 12 French fishing boats of 47 which applied to fish in an area between six and 12 miles off the UK coast were granted licences to do so.

French officials have accused the UK of violating the terms of the Brexit agreement and want the country hauled before an arbitration to hammer out the issue.

But ministers in London say the boats which have not been granted licences were unable to prove they had historically fished UK waters, which was a condition that was clearly spelled out in the deal.

The issue is particularly important to Emmanuel Macron at the moment because he is heading into an election which he risks losing to challengers from the far-right.

Mr Pont, whose Pas-de-Calais constituency includes the coastal town of Boulogne-sur-Mer where many of the fishermen who were denied licences are from, has threatened the Touquet Treaty in the past.

In December last year, Mr Pont said France should look at tearing up the agreement, also during a row over fishing rights.

The French government has vowed to retaliate at both state and European level, and said a package of measures will be announced in late October.

It is not clear what exactly the package will contain, though officials have said a number of bi-lateral treaties could come under review. 

Ms Giradin has previously threatened to cut off power to Jersey and Guernsey, which rely on France for 90 per cent of their electricity, if more licences are not issued.

Just yesterday, the self-governing islands turned down 75 applications for fishing licences which it said did not provide enough evidence of fishing routes.

Another 31 temporary licences were granted pending more evidence, while 64 full licences were handed out. 

Meanwhile fishermen have threatened to take the issue into their own hands by blockading British ports in the run-up to Christmas.

Olivier Lepretre, chief of the powerful northern France fisheries committee, said earlier this week: ‘If negotiating fails, we will stop all French and European products reaching the UK, and we will stop all British products reaching Europe.’

‘Unless Boris [Johnson] backs down, the Brits will not have so many nice things to eat this Christmas. I hope it doesn’t come to that.’

On Thursday, he said that London has just ‘two weeks’ to take action or else the blockade would begin.

In Brussels, Eurocrats refused to be drawn on whether Britain had failed to live up to the agreement it signed with the EU last year. 

But one senior EU diplomat claimed France was ‘overplaying’ the row ahead of next year’s presidential election. The source said: ‘It looks good for President Macron right now to be tough on the British.’ 

A European Commission spokesman said only that it was ‘a top priority for the bloc to achieve ‘continuity’ for EU skippers. 

Just last week, Mr Pont warned that French fishermen could also block the Channel Tunnel – telling Britons to ‘be warned’.

‘French fishermen of Boulogne-sur-Mer may be obliged, after nine months of useless patience, to envisage ways to retaliate against the UK… by blocking the entry of lorries towards the UK through the tunnel,’ he said.

Le Touquet Treaty was first signed in 2003 by Britain and France during a summit in the coastal resort of Le Touquet.

Emmanuel Macron has been accused of exploiting the row for political posturing as he heads into an election he risks losing to challengers from the far-right

It has been amended several times since, but in essence allows France and Britain to set up border control points on each-other’s soil.

For Britain, this means that migrant checks on vehicles and trains can be carried out before they reach the UK and claim asylum – meaning they are kept in France.

The infamous Calais ‘Jungle’ camp, which housed some 10,000 migrants before it was broken up in 2016, is one of of the most-notorious results of the policy.

As part of the deal, Britain pays money to France for housing the migrants and pays for the running of the checkpoints.

But the policy has long been a source of controversy on the French side of the border – with Mr Macron campaigning to renegotiate or scrap it during his successful 2017 presidential bid.

In 2018, he signed a revised version of the deal with then-Prime Minister Theresa May who agreed to pay an extra £44.5million to beef up security and accelerate legitimate asylum claims, such as people reunifying with family already in Britain.

Britain and France have already clashed in recent months over an Australian submarine deal, the EU’s bid to block life-saving jabs arriving in the UK, and the Northern Ireland protocol.

Former Cabinet minister Theresa Villiers said: ‘This is an unacceptable attempt at bullying. Ministers should stand firm.’

Senior Tory MP David Jones urged Mr Macron to ‘dial down the rhetoric’ adding: ‘Resorting to gangsterism, which is what this effectively is, can never be justified’.

France’s foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said differences with Britain were getting bigger and it was up to London to offer ideas to improve relations. ‘The ball is in their court,’ he added.

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