Owners of UK vessel seized by French ordered to pay £125k deposit before they can leave

Liz Truss: France's fishing row actions are 'not expected'

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As well as the £125,000 deposit, the skipper of the vessel, the Cornelius Gert Jan, could also face criminal charges in a French court, and face a fine himself of £70,000. France has sought the intervention and assistance of the European Union to resolve the dispute.

Paris is threatening to block British boats from its ports and tighten checks on vessels if an issue over a lack of licences for small French vessels to fish in British waters is not resolved by Tuesday.

Prime Minister of France Jean Castex urged the EU to use the “levers at its disposal” to press home the need for “compliance” with the Brexit agreement on fishing and to show that “leaving the Union is more damaging than remaining in it”.

Brexit minister Lord David Frost responded: “We are concerned and surprised by the comments seemingly made by @JeanCASTEX to @vonderLeyen that: ‘it is indispensable to show European public opinion that … it causes more damage to leave the EU than to stay in’.”

He added: “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.”

With the British ship still in French hands, diplomacy has yet to show any signs of progress in spite of statements released by officials suggesting tension was calming.

At a G20 press conference, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “On fish, I’ve got to tell you the position is unchanged. And I’ll just say this, for the record. I must say I was puzzled to read a letter from the French Prime Minister explicitly asking for Britain to be punished for leaving the EU.

Referring directly to Brexit, Mr Johnson said: “I don’t believe that is compatible either with the spirit or the letter of the withdrawal agreement of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement and that’s probably all I’ll say about that.”

In turn, French President Emmanuel Macron said: “I don’t want escalation. We need to be serious. I don’t want to have to use retaliation measures because that wouldn’t help our fishermen.”

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On Monday, a spokesman for the Seine-Maritime prefecture confirmed that the Cornelis would remain in the Normandy port of Le Havre unless her crew paid ‘a 150,000 euros deposit’ – the equivalent of more than £125,000.

The spokesman added: “The boat will not be allowed to leave until that sum is paid.”

It far outweighs anything the boat might have earned during what started off as a five-day trip to France to fish for scallops.

The boat was detained by gendarmes last Wednesday and escorted to the quayside at Le Havre, where they have remained ever since.

The skipper, who has not been formally named, has been charged with “acts of unauthorised sea fishing in French maritime salt waters by a third-party vessel to the European Union”.

Andrew Brown, director of Scottish firm MacDuff Shellfish, which owns the Cornelis, said she was being used as a ‘pawn’ by the French, and that she had not acted illegally.

Mr Brown said last week: “We are looking to the UK government to defend the rights of the UK fishing fleet and ensure that the fishing rights provided under the Brexit fishing agreement are fully respected by the EU.”

Clement Beaune, France’s Europe minister, has said “we need to speak the language of force’ to Britain because it is ‘the only thing this government understands”.

Earlier the PM’s spokesman said it is a matter for France to decide whether to back off the threats.

“We certainly stand ready to respond should they proceed with breaking the Brexit agreement,” the spokesman said.

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