Fishing boat returns home as key post-Brexit talks begin in Paris

A British boat held by the French for alleged illegal fishing arrived back in England just as crunch talks to end the escalating licensing crisis were set to begin in Paris.

The Cornelis Gert Jan steamed into Shoreham, West Sussex, early on Thursday morning following a week on the quay in the Normandy port of Le Havre.

But – despite being allowed to return home without paying a £125,000 bail bond – skipper Jondy Ward still faces criminal trial back in France in August.

This will be one of the key issues discussed by Brexit Minister Lord Frost when he arrives in Paris today, when he will call for an end to French threats “once and for all”.

He is due to meet the outspoken French Europe Minister Clement Beaune who said last week as the fishing row exploded that France needed “to speak the language of force” because “it is the only thing this [British] government understands”.

Such aggressive rhetoric has included threats by the French to wreak havoc on cross-Channel trade and even to shut down power supplies to the Channel Islands.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday called off plans to block British trawlers from offloading catches in French ports and to introduce new checks on lorries arriving in the country. This came after authorities in Jersey offered to speed up approval for fishing vessels in its waters, in an attempt to defuse the post-Brexit crisis.

However, President Macron’s spokesman Gabriel Attal has now warned that sanctions will still go ahead unless Lord Frost offers significant concessions.

“All options are on the table,” said Mr Attal. “We may need to implement those measures if we do not reach an agreement.”

Under the Brexit trade deal, French vessels are able to fish in the area between six and 12 miles from the UK’s shores until 2026 if they can prove they had previously been operating in those waters.

But some boats have had their applications for permits refused because, it is claimed, they have not provided sufficient documentation.

Downing Street has insisted it was not looking at weakening the evidence requirements for granting licences as part of attempts to negotiate a solution to the dispute.

The Scottish-registered scallop dredger Cornelis Gert Jan docked at Shoreham, near Brighton, at 4.46am on Thursday.

Its owners, Macduff Shellfish, have accused the French of using the vessel as a ‘pawn’ in the escalating dispute.

Extreme threats suggested by the French have included cutting off electricity to the Channel Islands.

Power is supplied to Jersey and Guernsey by undersea cables from Normandy, meaning that it can be switched off almost instantly.

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