Scottish trawler seized by France is a little local difficulty that cannot be allowed to damage relations between London and Paris – Scotsman comment

The detention of a fishing trawler operated by a Scottish firm by French authorities appears to be the latest escalation of a bitter post-Brexit dispute about fishing rights.

Scottish-operated trawler Cornelis Gert Jan tied up in Le Havre's harbour (Picture: Sameer al-Doumy/AFP via Getty Images)
Scottish-operated trawler Cornelis Gert Jan tied up in Le Havre's harbour (Picture: Sameer al-Doumy/AFP via Getty Images)

The Cornelis Gert Jan, which is based in Shoreham, Hampshire, and run by MacDuff Shellfish of Scotland, was ordered to sail from the Bay of Seine to Le Havre and was later fined because it was not on a list of UK vessels licensed to fish in French waters, according to French officials. Another boat was fined after its crew were said to have obstructed French police as they attempted to carry out checks.

This comes after a separate dispute over fishing rights saw a fleet of about 60 French fishing boats ‘blockade’ Saint Helier harbour in Jersey in May, prompting two Royal Navy ships to be sent in.

After the Le Havre incident, some in the UK fishing industry claimed the French were “determined” to escalate the issue, while MacDuff Shellfish said their trawler had been fishing perfectly legally and called for the government to “defend the rights of the UK fishing fleet”.

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For their part, a UK government spokesperson criticised “France’s threats”, saying they were “disappointing and disproportionate, and not what we would expect from a close ally and partner”.

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Post-Brexit row between France and UK over Jersey fishing rights should never ha...

Amid such rancour, it’s all too easy for the blood to start racing with outrage at this affront to innocent British seafarers by the perfidious French.

And if its crew did nothing wrong, being detained and fined would have been annoying and costly.

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However, the Baie de Seine – to use its French name – is a long way away from the Gulf of Tonkin in more ways than one.

This is a small dispute about fishing permits and one that may have arisen because of a simple misunderstanding. The Cornelis Gert Jan appears to have been on the approved list, but then taken off for reasons that are unclear.

If the French are spoiling for a fight, more fool them, but we should not give it to them. Instead, such problems should be resolved as amicably as possible.

A diplomatic drive to prevent such little local difficulties from multiplying and to restore good relations with this fellow liberal democracy and “close ally” should now be a Whitehall priority.

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