Ministers have been urged to show some “backbone” in protecting the British fishing industry after talks to end the “scallop wars” with French vessels in the Channel broke down.
Sue Hayman, the shadow environment secretary, accused the government of “failing to find a voice” in discussions about compensation for British boatsthat are prevented from harvesting in a disputed territory during a period when the French are banned under domestic law.
It was announced on Wednesday that the talks had ended without a deal, risking a return to recent skirmishes in the Baie de Seine, north of Normandy, with the French navy on standby to prevent further clashes.
George Eustice, the fisheries minister, has written to the French government to suggest reverting to an agreement previously in place for boats over 15 metres, “which would be preferable to no agreement at all”.
He suggested restrictions imposed on French boats earlier in the year be lifted to address concerns over the lack of a level playing field.
“Any violence taking place is unacceptable and the safety of our fishing fleet is paramount. Subsequent negotiations have regrettably not resulted in an agreement,” he told MPs.
“I hope a mutually beneficial outcome might still be agreed between the two industries, but in the meantime, we stand ready to offer what assistance the French government may wish to consider.”
Hayman replied: “Every day that British boats are unable to go fishing, livelihoods and communities are being hurt … The industry is looking to the government for some backbone and for the government to fight for them, their livelihoods and their communities”
The SNP MP Kirsty Blackman urged the government to “get back round the table”, saying: “It’s really important that you don’t give up and that an agreement is found.”
Earlier this month, the French agriculture minister, Stéphane Travert, said the country’s navy was ready to act if there were a repeat of clashes when French vessels chased British boasts out of international waters in the Baie de Seine.
About 35 French boats confronted five British vessels more than 12 miles off the Normandy coast, with stones thrown and craft rammed as they tried to protect stocks of shellfish.
Under EU law, British boats are not allowed to fish within 12 miles of the French coast, but smaller vessels can dredge for scallops in the 40-mile stretch of international waters known as the Baie de Seine, while the French have access only from November to February.