Lord Frost discusses the deadline for invoking Article 16
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The Brexit minister told peers on a Parliament committee the relationship with Brussels had been strained thanks to the influence of the government in Paris. He admitted UK relations with France were fictitious but he wanted to put it “back to an even keel” as quickly as possible.
Appearing before the European Affair Committee, Lord Frost said London and Brussels were finding things “still is a little bit bumpy in various areas”.
He blamed the Northern Ireland Protocol dispute for “generating mistrust” and told peers he hoped diplomatic ties would be normalised once negotiations over the province were resolved.
Accusing Paris of stoking tensions in discussions, he said the French government was using its position to determine the EU’s negotiating position.
“France is obviously a major player within the EU, has lots of influence over the Commission and that obviously colours a few things I would say.
“Not everything, not even most things, but it does colour areas of dispute I suspect,” he said.
“I think as regards France, we have ups and downs in the relationship.
“We’ve had very significant downs in the past, in the run up to the Iraq war in 2003 when I was in the embassy in Paris.
“We’re able to move on from these things because we have not only so much in common, but so many common interests where we’re forced to collaborate, work together, make things work between us.
“So, without downplaying the difficulties we’ve got at the moment, nevertheless it is a positive, important relationship that we would wish to put onto a better footing if we could.
“Although obviously in a way that works for our national interest as well as France’s but it is not something we are casual about and we would like to get things back to an even keel.”
As well as clashes over the Northern Ireland Protocol, the UK and EU are also looking to resolve a dispute over fishing rights.
French fishermen have claimed Britain is refusing to hand out licences to those vessels that have historically had access to the waters.
The UK Government rejects the allegations and says licences have been granted to all those who provided accurate documentation with their applications.
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The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said yesterday: “The licences are rules relating to vessels being able to demonstrate, as agreed during the Brexit talks, that why have historically fished in those waters.
“If they have that information then that licence is granted as they have been in 98 percent of cases.”
France has threatened to implement a “go-slow” strategy for customs checks on shipments to and from Britain ahead of Christmas to punish the UK over the fishing row.
It is thought President Macron’s government is also pushing a tough line on Protocol talks due to the licences dispute.
Last night, France’s maritime minister, Annick Girardin, said she “won’t give up” until more licences are granted for EU vessels.
“We are one week away from the deadline set by France for answers from the UK,” she said.
“I want to give clear visibility to the fishermen and remind them the French government is by their side.”
A UK Government spokesman said: “We’re continuing to work closely with the European Commission and French government and we remain open to considering further evidence that supports the remaining licence applications.”
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