Emmanuel Macron on Friday denied surrendering in the battle over Brexit fishing licences after French fishermen accused Paris of “taking its trousers down” to the UK.
Speaking during a trip to northern France, Mr Macron said: “We are going to continue to fight, we will not abandon our fishermen. We did not get what we wanted. They are playing with our nerves.”
In what appeared to be a swipe at the European Commission, the French president said that, if it did not “play its part” in the dispute, “France will do it”.
His comments came as his government denied it had capitulated to the British crown dependency of Jersey and the UK over demands to grant all outstanding requests for fishing licences.
French fishermen were furious after Annick Girardin, the maritime minister, said the government was preparing a rescue plan of €40 million to €60 million for the owners of boats forced to remain in port.
Philippe Lepage, a fisherman from Granville, the French port closest to Jersey, told BFM TV: “We’ve been abandoned by our government. Once again, they are taking their trousers down to the British. When will this government get tough?”
But Clement Beaune, the Europe minister, told AFP: “There is no abandonment, nor retreat. We are requesting the same number of licenses.”
Meanwhile, Britain is “confident” it can make progress in Brexit talks over the Northern Ireland Protocol without triggering Article 16 of the treaty, Michael Gove said on Friday.
Speaking at the British Irish Council summit in Cardiff, he said: “Lord Frost has signalled that while, of course, it’s always possible that Article 16 may require to be invoked, we’re confident that we’ll be able to make progress without it.”
Lord Frost has repeatedly threatened to use Article 16 to unilaterally suspend parts of the protocol unless real progress is made in the Brexit talks.
In a speech in Dublin, Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission vice president, said he had noticed “a recent change of tone from the UK Government, and we hope that actions will follow words.”
Brussels has warned that, if the clause is triggered, the EU could suspend or cancel its trade deal with the UK.
After talks in the Belgian capital, Lord Frost said “the United Kingdom’s preference remains to secure a solution based on consensus”, adding: “If no such solution can be found, we remain prepared to use the safeguard provisions under Article 16, which are a legitimate recourse under the protocol.”
The Brexit minister said the Brexit minister said negotiations had been “intensive and constructive”. He suggested the UK would match the EU’s efforts to find a deal after Micheál Martin, the Irish Prime Minister, said the bloc had “serious intent” to find an agreement.
Lord Frost said: “The Taoiseach [Mr Martin] said that the EU has serious intent to resolve the difficulties that we’re facing. I think that’s a very good thing that we take very seriously.”
Mr Sefcovic last week suggested a deal on medicines, understood to be close, could pave the way for a series of breakthroughs in other areas of the protocol talks.
Northern Ireland continues to follow EU rules in some areas – including medicines – under the terms of the protocol, which prevents a hard Irish border. But those rules threaten the supply of medicines from Britain to Northern Ireland once grace periods in the protocol expire at the end of the year unless a deal is reached.
“On medicines, there has been progress but agreement has not been reached,” Lord Frost said. “Any acceptable solution needs to ensure that medicines are available at the same time and on the same basis across the whole of the UK.”
Mr Sefcovic said there was “genuine urgency” to secure “the uninterrupted long-term supply of medicines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland”.
Negotiations continue next week, and Lord Frost and Mr Sefcovic meet in London next Friday.