The move to grant just 12 licences to French vessels under 12 metres in length, out of 47 that had applied, provoked a furious response from Paris. And the European Commission has backed France’s complaints, insisting that Britain must set out the exact details of its announcement. A spokeswoman said: “The European Commission has taken note of yesterday’s announcement made by the UK Government in relation to the issuing of licences for EU vessels in the UK territorial waters.
“The UK informed that, according to the methodology applied by the UK on the exhaustive evidence provided by the EU, 12 out of 47 small vessels were granted a licence at this stage and that further evidence could be provided for the remaining.
“The Commission welcomes this step, but regrets that it has not been possible to bring this issue now to an end.
“We will ask the UK for full disclosure of their methodology and will continue to further engage in the interest of our fishermen and women so that further licenses will be provided.”
EU fisheries commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius last night held talks with his British and French counterparts over the issue.
But France was calling for “retaliatory action” against Britain as the Anglo-French relationship took another turn for the worse.
Its Europe minister Clement Beaune fumed: “We will not hesitate to take retaliatory action, collectively.
“We understand and share the exasperation of our fishermen.
“We cannot cooperate in confidence with the UK while the deal is not respected.”
Former Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier insisted the move could further damage relations between Britain and France.
He said: “There are too many points of disappointment from our side and I think it could be difficult.”
UK Government officials insist that the licences were granted based on the French vessels’ historical links to our fishing grounds.
One insider said the UK had “bent over backwards to be as generous as we could be”, according to the Telegraph.
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A spokesman added: “The government has this year issued a large number of licences to EU vessels seeking to fish in our exclusive economic zone (12-200 nautical mile zone) and our territorial sea (6-12 nautical mile zone). Our approach has been reasonable and fully in line with our commitments in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA).
“As regards the 6-12nm zone, as set out in the TCA, EU vessels must provide evidence of a track record of fishing activity in those waters. We have been considering applications for vessels of under 12 m in length to fish in this zone and, on the basis of the evidence available, we are able to grant licences for 12 of the 47 applications made.
“We continue to work with the Commission and the French authorities and will consider any further evidence provided to support the remaining licence applications.”
Royal Navy gunboats were said to be on standby in the Channel after French fury to the snub.
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Government sources warned French boats threatening to disrupt trade that “all contingency measures are on the table”.
France is pushing for tariffs to be slapped on British goods or for cooperation on energy supplies to be cut.
Fishing minister Annick Girardin said: “French fishing must not be taken hostage by the British for political ends.”
French fishermen have threatened to blockade UK goods and rip up electricity cables if they don’t get access to our waters.
Olivier Le Nézet, president of the Brittany fishermen’s committee, branded the decision to accept just 12 out of 47 applications “a declaration of war on the water and on the land”.
He vowed that French trawlermen would ensure “not a single British product lands on French soil”.
He added: “There will be actions that will go beyond what you can imagine and I’m not just talking about cutting off electricity to Jersey.
“We will lead this battle against the UK.”