‘Let’s Act!’ – Farage Calls on Boris to Suspend EU Brexit Payments Amid French Fishing Threats

PLYMOUTH, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 25: Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage visits Plymouth Fisheries at Sutton Harbour on November 25, 2019 in Plymouth, England. (Photo by Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)
Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images

Nigel Farage has called for the United Kingdom to suspend Brexit divorce payments to the European Union if France fails to back down from trade war threats in the English Channel.

The Brexit leader noted on Monday that Britain is still on the hook for billions of pounds to the EU, agreed to by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement last year, and therefore has leverage in the ongoing dispute with the French on fishing licenses.

“Let’s act,” Farage demanded, saying that “as the French are breaking the withdrawal agreement — and the EU are ignoring it,” Boris Johnson’s government should “Suspend all EU payments until the French threats stop!”

The dispute centres around the French claim that half of the fishing licenses guaranteed to French boats under the Brexit agreement have not been handed over. Britain has in turn argued that the boats in question did not have sufficient evidence of a history of fishing in British waters, and therefore should not be permitted access.

France has threatened to ban British seafood from French ports and to increase checks on ships and lorries travelling through the Port of Calais in order to exacerbate the supply chain crunch. The French have also threatened to cut off energy to the British Crown Dependency of Jersey and even detained and threatened a British trawler with heavy fines in an apparent retaliatory strike.

In a meeting in Rome with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during the G20 summit, Prime Minister Boris Johnson argued that were France to follow through with its threats, it would represent a breach of the Brexit agreement by the entire European Union.

President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday that if the British do not agree to their licensing demands within 24 hours, the French will start imposing restrictions by Tuesday.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said that “if the French don’t back down” within the next “48 hours” then the government will launch legal proceedings under the dispute resolution mechanism of the Brexit deal — a measure far short of France’s robust unilateral action but one which could have trade repercussions eventually.

Truss said that France has made “completely unreasonable threats”, telling Sky News: “The French have behaved unfairly, it’s not within the terms of the trade deal. And if somebody behaves unfairly in a trade deal, you are entitled to take action against them and seek some compensatory measures.”

The Foreign Secretary went on to suggest that the upcoming presidential election in France may be the reason for Macron’s aggression.

“You might say there is a French election coming up. You might say there are various other issues of concern,” she said.

The British government has yet to put the divorce payments on the table, however, or indeed any specific measures other than launching legal proceedings.

While the United Kingdom paid far more into the European Union’s budget over decades of membership, as well as into the coffers of EU predecessors the European Community (EC) and European Economic Community (EEC), Johnson agreed to continue payments far beyond the country’s departure from the bloc.

The initial bill had been estimated in 2017 to be £37.1bn, however, the EU later revised this number, revealing in July that they expected the British taxpayer to hand over £40.8bn to Brussels — a figure which the British government has disputed.

Britain’s fishing industry was also devastated by EU membership, with Brussels taking control of its national stocks under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and handing out the lion’s share of catch quotas to EU vessels.

A meeting is expected to be held on Monday afternoon between representatives from the UK, France, the European Commission and the Channel Islands.

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka

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