France has backed down on immediate threats to ban British vessels from French ports as the two nations continue to feud over post-Brexit licences to fish in UK waters.
French President Emmanuel Macron had warned that Paris could block UK boats from landing their catches and impose physical checks on lorries travelling to and from the UK – which had led to fears of long queues on either side of the Channel resulting in delayed shipments ahead of Christmas.
But on Monday evening, Downing Street said it welcomed an announcement from Paris that it would “not go ahead with implementing their proposed measures as planned tomorrow”, adding that the UK is “ready” to continue talks.
The statement from a UK government spokesperson continued: “The UK has set out its position clearly on these measures in recent days.
“As we have said consistently, we are ready to continue intensive discussions on fisheries, including considering any new evidence to support the remaining licence applications.
“We welcome France’s acknowledgement that in-depth discussions are needed to resolve the range of difficulties in the UK/EU relationship. Lord Frost has accepted Clement Beaune’s invitation and looks forward to the discussions in Paris on Thursday.”
He is reported to have said that the UK government agreed to come back to the French government on Tuesday “with other proposals”.
Officials from the two nations have been involved in talks convened by the European Commission in Brussels.
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson and Mr Macron came face-to-face once more on Monday after both arriving in Glasgow.
Earlier on Monday, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told Sky News she was setting a 48-hour deadline for the fishing dispute with France to be resolved.
After this point, the UK government would begin taking legal action, Ms Truss said, hitting out at the French for behaving “unfairly” and making “completely unreasonable” threats.
Shortly after her comments, Downing Street added that it had “robust” contingency plans in place if Mr Macron’s government carried out threats to disrupt trade from midnight.
Last week, French authorities detained a British scallop trawler in the port of Le Havre as fresh tensions over post-Brexit fishing rights broke out.
The UK has granted licences to 98% of EU vessels which have requested permission to operate in British waters.
But the dispute centres on access for small boats, under 12 metres, wishing to fish in the UK six to 12 nautical mile zone.
The government in Paris detained the British scallop trawler, as it was angry that the UK originally granted only 12 licences out of 47 bids for smaller vessels.
A total of 18 licences have now been granted.
Paris had previously said if the rules did not change by midnight on Tuesday, retaliatory measures would be launched.
Jersey‘s government, which is responsible for managing licences for French vessels to fish in the island’s waters, has since accused France of seeking to “bully” with the “completely unprecedented” threat to the island’s energy supply.
And the Crown Dependency called for an end to the “silliness” of “political rhetoric” and to “deal with the technical issues”.
Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow business secretary Ed Miliband also expressed his fears that French threats were being made “for domestic political reasons”.
“I don’t like the way the French have behaved in this at all – I actually agree with Liz Truss on this,” he told Sky News at the COP26 summit.