UK welcomes further French fishing talks

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Britain has welcomed France having "stepped back" from threats to impose punitive action in a dispute over post-Brexit fishing licences as talks to settle the row continue.

The UK's Environment Secretary, George Eustice, acknowledged a de-escalation from French President Emmanuel Macron as he held off on action against British boats he had warned could have been implemented on Tuesday.

But Eustice said a meeting between Brexit minister Lord Frost and his French counterpart on Thursday would be "very important", with further EU talks also scheduled.

In another de-escalation, Eustice suggested a British vessel impounded during the diplomatic storm because of "administrative confusion" has now been released.

But the owner of Scottish-registered dredger, the Cornelis Gert Jan, said the boat is still being held by France.

"As far as we are aware, the vessel remains held at the port of Le Havre at least until the hearing tomorrow," Andrew Brown, a director of Macduff Shellfish which owns the Cornelis Gert Jan, said.

Macron had warned Paris could block British boats from landing their catches in French ports and tighten customs checks in protest at what France claims is a refusal by the UK authorities to grant licences to French boats.

But France suspended the threats at the eleventh hour as negotiations continue.

"We welcome the fact France has stepped back from the threats it was making last Wednesday," Eustice told Sky News.

"We've always said we want to de-escalate this and always said we have an ever open door to discuss any further evidence France or the EU might have on any additional vessels they'd like to have licensed."

The European Union said talks with officials from France, the UK, and the islands of Jersey and Guernsey would continue on Tuesday.

"Since this afternoon, discussions have resumed on the basis of a proposal I made to Prime Minister (Boris) Johnson," the French president told journalists at the COP26 summit in Glasgow on Monday.

"My understanding is that the British were going to come back to us tomorrow with other proposals.

"We'll see where we are tomorrow at the end of the day, to see if things have really changed."

Earlier, Downing Street said it had "robust" contingency plans in place if France carried out threats to disrupt trade from midnight.

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 was angry that the UK originally granted only 12 licences out of 47 bids for smaller vessels, a figure which has now risen to 18.

Only boats which can demonstrate they have fished in UK waters for one day in each of the years between 2012 and 2016 qualify for a licence.

- with Reuters

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