UK-France fishing spat deepens despite Macron-Johnson meet

UK-France fishing spat deepens despite Macron-Johnson meet

Rome: French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met privately on Sunday to try to resolve an escalating dispute over fishing in the English Channel but afterward the two countries appeared farther apart than ever and gave starkly differing versions of the meeting's outcome.

The post-Brexit spat over the granting of licenses to fish in Britain's coastal waters threatens to escalate within days into a damaging French blockade of British boats.

After the 30-minute meeting between Macron and Johnson on the fringes of a Group of 20 summit in Rome, a French top official said both leaders agreed there was a need to talk to each other in a situation of important tensions. He said measures need to be taken as soon as possible to get to a de-escalation.

Britain, however, denied the leaders had agreed to take steps to de-escalate the spat, saying it was entirely up to France to calm the waters.

The U.K. government said in a statement that during the meeting, Johnson reiterated his deep concern over France's rhetoric and expressed his hope that the French government would de-escalate. Johnson's spokesman, Max Blain, said our position has not changed.

It will be for the French to decide whether they want to step away from the threats they have made in recent days, Blain said. Both in our rhetoric and our actions we have not in any way sought to escalate this. ... The de-escalation would have to come from the French side.

A second French official said the "difference of views shows a different mindset and that Paris cares about commitments that have been made and about the French-British relationship.

Fishing is a tiny industry economically, but one that looms large symbolically for maritime nations like Britain and France.

Britain's exit from the economic rules of the 27-nation bloc at the start of this year means the UK now controls who fishes in its waters.

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