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UK pledges retaliation to French fishing threats

France has threatened to block British boats and tighten checks on U.K. vessels unless French vessels get more permits to fish in U.K. waters.

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s environment minister pledged Friday to retaliate if France carries through on threats to block U.K. fishing ships from French ports, warning that “two can play at that game’’ in the worsening dispute rooted in Britain’s departure from the European Union.

Britain summoned the French ambassador for a dressing-down after French authorities fined two British fishing vessels and kept one in port overnight Thursday.

Since the U.K. left the economic orbit of the EU in January, relations between London and Paris have become increasingly frayed as the nations on either side of the English Channel sort out a post-Brexit path.

France has threatened to block British boats and tighten checks on U.K. vessels unless French vessels get more permits to fish in U.K. waters. France also suggested it might restrict energy supplies to the Channel Islands, British Crown dependencies that lie off the coast of France and are heavily dependent on French electricity.

“We will see what they do,”British Environment Secretary George Eustice told Sky News. “But if they do bring these into place, well, two can play at that game and we reserve the ability to respond in a proportionate way.”

The U.K. government said France’s ambassador, Catherine Colonna, would be summoned to the Foreign Office on Friday, in an official sign of displeasure.

“We regret the confrontational language that has been consistently used by the French government on this issue, which makes this situation no easier to resolve,” the British government said.

France vehemently protested the decision last month by the U.K. and the Channel Island of Jersey to refuse dozens of French fishing boats licenses to operate in their territorial waters. Dozens of other licenses were granted. France says the restrictions are contrary to the post-Brexit agreement that Britain signed when it left the EU.

Meanwhile, the European Union's executive said U.K. authorities withdrew the impounded vessel's license to fish off France on March 1.

But Macduff Shellfish, which operates the impounded scallop vessel Cornelis Gert Jan, hit back, saying they were unaware there was an issue with the license and have sought clarification from U.K. authorities. They insist they were acting in good faith.

“Under normal circumstances, if there was an error in administration, it would have been dealt with with a phone call,'' said Andrew Brown, the head of sustainability and public affairs for the company.

Instead, the ship and its crew have found themselves at the center of post-Brexit spat on the implementation of the Brexit Fishing Agreement.

“We are looking to the U.K. government to defend the rights of the U.K. fishing fleet and ensure that the fishing rights provided under the Brexit Fishing agreement are fully respected by the EU,'' the company said.

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By DANICA KIRKA Associated Press

Associated Press Writer Samuel Petrequin contributed.

Categories / Government, International, Law, Politics

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