Boris Johnson has urged Brussels to rein in France as Britain accused Emmanuel Macron of engaging in a “pattern” of threats against the UK.
n a meeting with Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, in Rome, the UK prime minister complained about France’s aggressive rhetoric and demanded an explanation of a letter from the country’s prime minister that said Britain must be shown that Brexit is “damaging”.
Senior UK government sources said the letter from Jean Castex to Von der Leyen suggested that the EU may not have been negotiating in “good faith” over Northern Ireland.
Johnson personally warned Von der Leyen that France’s separate threats to block British fishing boats from landing at the country’s ports, tighten checks on UK vessels and lorries, and even disrupt electricity supplies to Jersey, would put the entire EU in breach of its post-Brexit trade deal.
A Downing Street source said: “The EU needs to do something here because if France go ahead it will put the whole EU in breach.”
Cabinet ministers have accused Macron of ramping up the fishing row with Britain in an effort to boost his popularity in France, as he tries to avoid being unseated by nationalist rivals in next year’s presidential election. A British scallop trawler has been stranded in Le Havre since Thursday, with its captain facing a court hearing, after being impounded by the French authorities as part of the escalating dispute. Today Macron and Johnson will discuss the row face-to-face as they meet on the fringes of the G20.
Yesterday the two men exchanged a fist bump as they arrived for a group photo of G20 leaders. Their wives, Carrie Johnson and Brigitte Macron, were pictured together at the Colosseum.
Tomorrow UK ministers will hold a meeting of the ‘Global Britain’ cabinet committee to discuss Britain’s response to France’s threats and Lord Frost’s negotiations with the EU over Northern Ireland.
The Sunday Telegraph understands that senior government figures have been discussing plans to increase the use of Belgian and Dutch ports to ship freight to and from the UK in light of France’s threats, in order to dramatically reduce Britain’s reliance on the country in the long term.
A Whitehall source said that one idea under discussion was to offer firms “incentives” to use routes other than the “short straits” between England and France. The plan, which is at an early stage, would involve spending vast sums of money to boost infrastructure in lesser-used ports to create sufficient capacity to draw trade away from the most popular routes, including from Dover and Folkestone to Calais.
The plan would be designed to “reduce the potential leverage France has if it seeks to cause disruption”.
Yesterday Johnson said there was “some turbulence in the relationship” with France following Castex’s letter, which stated that it was “essential to make clear… that leaving the union is more damaging than remaining in it”. He hinted that Britain could trigger the dispute mechanism in the post-Brexit UK-EU trade agreement as soon as this week over the fishing row.
Following Johnson’s meeting with Von der Leyen, a Downing Street spokesman said: “The Prime Minister… raised his concerns about the rhetoric from the French government in recent days over the issue of fishing licences. The Prime Minister stressed that the French threats are completely unjustified and do not appear to be compatible with the UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement or wider international law.”
A senior government source said: “The letter definitely raises a question of how the EU is acting and whether or not it is acting in good faith around the negotiations.”
Lord Frost, Mr Johnson’s Brexit negotiator, later said the government was “concerned and surprised” by Mr Castex’s remarks, adding: “I hope this opinion is not held more widely across the EU. To see it expressed in this way is clearly very troubling and very problematic in the current context when we are trying to solve many highly sensitive issues, including on the Northern Ireland Protocol.”
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