France will pressure Brussels to take a tougher line against the UK in negotiations over the Northern Ireland Protocol as it escalates its row with Britain over fishing after Brexit.
Paris is determined to secure the support of EU allies against the UK in the re-ignited row over post Brexit fishing licences for small boats.
It wants the European Commission to trigger punitive measures in the fishing agreement that would hit UK fish exports with trade tariffs and could ultimately shut Britain out of the EU energy market.
French diplomats have already begun ratcheting up the pressure in meetings with envoys from the other 26 member states held on Friday in Brussels.
On Thursday, Maritime Minister Annick Girardin called for a joint European front against the British, who she accused of breaching their Brexit commitments.
“On this we are all for one and one for all,” said one EU diplomat, “and in solidarity with the French.”
Paris has already expressed frustration with the UK for failing to implement commitments made in the Northern Ireland Protocol.
It is understood that the French have previously told the commission that it felt the UK was handed a diplomatic victory after the agreement of a standstill period in talks over the treaty.
The protocol creates a customs border between mainland Britain and the province, which continues to follow hundreds of EU single market rules to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.
The UK claims that border checks on British goods are having a chilling effect on trade and demanded a substantial overhaul of the protocol.
Breaking international law
It has also regularly warned it will be prepared to trigger Article 16 of the treaty to override the agreement, which Brussels warns would break international law and could result in trade tariffs.
The commission agreed to not trigger legal action when the deadlines on various grace periods exempting goods from checks in the protocol expired at the end of September.
This will buy time for negotiations over the protocol, but the commission reserves its right to take action at any time.
Brussels is ruling out a wholesale renegotiation of the protocol, which only entered into force on December 31, but says it will try and find solutions within the framework of the agreement.
Sources in Brussels said that the UK’s refusal to grant French fishermen licences could have unforeseen consequences for the negotiations, which are led by European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic.
“This row will make it harder for Sefcovic to sell any compromise back to the member states. France wants a tougher line,” an EU diplomat said.
With his hands tied, Mr Sefcovic will find it even harder to come up with solutions that will satisfy the British, possibly putting Brussels and London on a collision course.
Mr Sefcovic is expected to come forward with his counter-proposal in the first 10 days of October, but only once the Tory party conference has been concluded.