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France nets EU support in Jersey fishing fight

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LUXEMBOURG — The French government has secured the backing of at least 14 EU countries for a declaration that criticizes the U.K.’s approach to post-Brexit fishing rights.

Despite signing a Brexit trade deal that contained an agreement on fisheries, the EU and U.K. remain at odds over fishing rights, with most of the drama this year focused on a fight for permits off the coast of Jersey, a self-governing British dependency. The row comes at a sensitive time for the U.K.’s relationship with the EU since Brussels is this week expected to set out its proposed resolution to a separate dispute about trade terms in Northern Ireland.

Last month, France vowed to take “retaliatory action” after the U.K. refused to grant fishing permits to three quarters of small French boats who requested permission to fish in the Channel Islands’ waters.

At a meeting of EU farming and fisheries ministers in Luxembourg Monday the French delegation pushed other countries to support a statement, seen by POLITICO, which criticized the U.K. response to the Jersey dispute and strongly suggested the U.K. is falling short of what was agreed under the Brexit deal.

“We call on the United Kingdom to provide a response as soon as possible and to engage in further technical work in accordance with the spirit and the letter of the Agreement,” the final version of the statement said.

This final version shows that Belgium, Cyprus, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands backed the French document. According to three EU diplomats, Denmark, Malta, Lithuania and Latvia also gave their support in the room when ministers discussed the statement Monday morning.

An earlier version of the declaration criticized the “unsatisfactory” and “contradictory” U.K. response, while an even earlier draft, written only by French officials, included much harsher language.

The French-only version said the U.K.’s response represented a “clear failure” to comply with the Brexit deal. The U.K. “failures,” it said, “can only jeopardize” the implementation of the Brexit deal from 2026 onward.

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