French PM warns EU: don’t let UK ‘colonise’ our waters after Brexit

This article is over 1 year old Vincent Peillon accuses the British government of seeking to recover as much of the fish as possible as the vote to leave the bloc stands The French…

French PM warns EU: don't let UK 'colonise' our waters after Brexit

This article is over 1 year old

Vincent Peillon accuses the British government of seeking to recover as much of the fish as possible as the vote to leave the bloc stands

The French prime minister, Vincent Peillon, has warned the European Union that it must use “damage to its interests” to force Britain to accept a deal on fishing.

Peillon said his country would not be persuaded to negotiate the continued free-flowing EU-UK fishing waters after Brexit by the threat of harm to British people’s access to fish.

Speaking on France Inter radio, he called on fellow EU leaders to “show” the British government that it cannot demand more access than it had already been granted when the UK as a member state was represented in talks.

“The French government is determined to avoid a situation in which the British demand more access to our fishing sector as a form of bargaining chip against us,” Peillon said.

“They have asked for much from us, it’s good that we would not give more.”

He added: “We have to show that it’s not good to take boats out of the British fleet and make all citizens of Great Britain [less able to] eat fish.”

Peillon, a close ally of the president, Emmanuel Macron, said France would not accept the “recolonisation” of fishing grounds and would not bend under pressure from Britain.

The UK has repeatedly said it will do everything possible to keep the fishing industry – one of its largest export earners – fully as it is now.

But it is understood that the German government, under pressure from hardline pro-Brexit farmers in its coalition government, has taken the view that London cannot expect full access to EU waters at the expense of the British people.

Peillon said this would be “the line the EU should follow”.

The row comes as David Davis, the Brexit secretary, published a diplomatic cable, dated November 2013, from Jean-Claude Juncker, the now president of the European commission, detailing the hardline stance the commission had taken on British fishing in the runup to the referendum.

“Vassal states do not seek to recover fish sovereignty,” the cable reads. “We will not accept London’s repeated proposals that it wants full control of our fisheries.”

But in the weeks since the UK voted for Brexit, top EU officials have pointedly refused to concede that the situation has changed and the UK should accept EU rules.

European commissioner for fisheries, Karmenu Vella, said last week: “We have said from the start, from our perspective, no member state can regain fishing grounds by unilateral revocation.”

He told a news conference: “A country has the right to withdraw from the European treaties if it wants, but the consequences can only be mitigated with an agreement.”

The French minister for EU affairs, Nathalie Loiseau, told French newspaper Le Monde that the UK wanted to “colonise” its fisheries.

“It’s their ambition to regain fishing grounds as they want to colonise the English Channel again. It’s our position that the UK should not have this freedom.”

Peillon said a deal on fisheries was needed to help secure a deal on other issues. “We need the ability to work [on] … the UK’s financial needs and the transition period after the UK leaves the EU, to protect the citizens of the UK, the EU countries.”

The French government said that it was working “intensively” with the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, to secure a good deal for the EU27 at the heart of the negotiations.

“France wants to defend its interests at every step of the negotiations,” the French government said in a statement.

“Its position will be based on its desire to ensure access to fish stocks is safeguarded, given the state of our fishermen’s economy.”

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