'We're caught in the middle' of Brexit fishing row, says Captain of British trawler held by France




  • In World
  • 2021-11-03 09:51:46Z
  • By The Telegraph
Captain Jondy Ward (left) arrives with his legal team at the Court of Appeal in Rouen on Wednesday
Captain Jondy Ward (left) arrives with his legal team at the Court of Appeal in Rouen on Wednesday  

France is playing a "political game" by demanding a huge bail for the release of the British trawler seized in the bitter Brexit fish war, the lawyer of its captain has said.

French authorities won't release the Cornelis Gert Jan unless its owners post a €150,000 bail, which Mathieu Croix argued was deliberately inflated as part of the long-running battle between Britain and France over fishing licences.

Local officials are waiting on the result of a court hearing to establish whether their demands are acceptable before the boat is released.

After returning to the boat following the court hearing, Captain Jondy Ward said: "We're just waiting on the decision now from the judges to see if we are free to go or have to pay bail to get the boat out.

"I think we're kind of caught in the middle of this [fishing row]. But I can't say too much about it."

French accused of excessive bond

Speaking outside the court in Rouen, Mathieu Croix, the lawyer representing the trawler's captain, accused the French of slapping an "excessive" bond on the boat.

"We are clearly caught in a political game between Britain and France as there is a whole story spun around this entire case, whereas in fact it is a rather mundane affair over fishing in an area that is supposedly out of bounds and about fishing licences that may or may not have been given and catch amounts that are relatively modest," he said.

"What is uncommon is the size of the bail, which the French administration clearly set to focus minds over the fishing row," the lawyer added.

"The action taken by the French authorities has been over the top."

Trawler - Paul Grover for the Telegraph
Trawler - Paul Grover for the Telegraph  

The mounting row over the vessels comes as hopes of striking a new fishing deal between Britain and France are growing, with tensions thawing out between both sides.

The vessel, owned by Scottish firm Macduff Shellfish, has been impounded by the French since it was detained in French waters last Wednesday for allegedly fishing without a permit for the area.

Captain can leave - but ship must remain in Le Havre

Mr Croix said his client, Captain Ward, is free to leave but until the court ruling is announced, expected before midnight, the boat must remain in Le Havre.

Speaking after the hearing, Mr Ward said: "I hope to get home [on Wednesday] or at some stage at a later date. There should be a decision later [on Wednesday]."

Recalling the day the boat was detained, he added: "We were just boarded as standard in the morning. Everything went fine. Then they came back around 5pm to say that we're going to be detained because our boat was not on a European register for licensed vessels, which we had no idea about.

"We had all our documents on the bridge all in order. We have our licence to fish, everything like this. I don't know if it was a clerical error or what caused it, but we weren't on the list."

Meanwhile, French and European officials have failed the "constructive spirit" in the talks over post-Brexit fishing licences since Emmanuel Macron paused his threat of sanctions to create space for further discussions.

British officials are expected to respond later today to proposals made by Paris to break the deadlock.

Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, will meet Clement Beaune, France's Europe minister, in Paris on Thursday to assess progress.

"I spoke to my counterpart yesterday evening. The spirit is a constructive one on this topic," Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, France's transport minister, told Europe 1 radio.

Hints of a possible deal

Technical discussions between UK, EU and French officials will continue today, with the European Commission also hinting at a possible deal in the offing.

"Officials from the UK, France, Jersey and the Commission have been meeting for the past two days, these talks have allowed us to chart the way forward on several aspects and have created a positive dynamic aiming at a solution," a Commission spokesman said.

"The talks in these past few days have allowed for a better understanding of the outstanding issues that have been impeding quicker process, and we hope the positive engagement on all sides will soon translate into concrete results."

Mr Beaune has also held discussions with Maros Sefcovic, a Commission vice-president, over the issue.

France has warned it could revive its threats of retaliatory measures, including trade disruptions and port bans, on Friday if more French trawlers aren't granted permits to operate in Britain's coastal waters.

Gabriel Attal, a French government spokesman, said the Elysee would wait until after a meeting with the Commission at the end of the week.

He said: "My colleague Clement Beaune will meet Mr Frost tomorrow and there will be a meeting on Friday at the European Commission.

"I would remind you that this is first and foremost a European issue and thus the meeting at the European Commission will be very important."

Paris "will have to wait" until after that meeting before any sanctions are imposed," Mr Attal added.

Facing down the ultimatum, the Prime Minister last night dismissed speculation that Britain had offered concessions to France, after Emmanuel Macron climbed down from his threat of sanctions.

Boris Johnson told reporters: "Since you ask about whether the UK has changed its position ... on the fishing issue, the answer is no."

British officials are less confident of an immediate breakthrough in the talks, but are pleased France has shown a willingness to discuss a range of post-Brexit issues.

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