Now he has asked for further talks between France, Britain and the European Commission today. Mr Macron’s retreat came after the Prime Minister vowed Paris would face a “robust” response if it failed to drop its plans. France claims the UK is not honouring a post-Brexit deal on access to British fishing grounds. And Mr Macron had warned that from midnight on Monday, France would retaliate by stepping up checks on trucks coming from the UK and barring British trawlers from docking in French ports.
But Mr Macron, who briefly met Mr Johnson at the COP26 climate summit yesterday, backed down within hours of his own deadline.
He said: “Since this afternoon, discussions have resumed on the basis of a proposal I made to Prime Minister Johnson.
“The talks need to continue. We’ll see where we are tomorrow at the end of the day, to see if things have really changed.”
A senior UK Government source said last night: “We’re glad that France has stepped back. We’ve stuck to our position and were ready to respond if they had brought forward these measures, which would have put the EU in breach of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA).
“We are clear that our position has always been in line with the TCA, while we remain open to considering further evidence to support the remaining applications under the terms of the agreement.
“We are in solutions mode and we want to resolve these issues consensually if we can.”
Additionally, France’s Europe minister Clement Beaune has invited Brexit minister Lord Frost for talks in Paris on Thursday.
In a statement released last night, a UK Government spokesperson said: “We welcome the French government’s announcement that they will not go ahead with implementing their proposed measures as planned tomorrow.
“As we have said consistently, we are ready to continue intensive discussions on fisheries, including considering any new evidence to support the remaining licence applications.
“We welcome France’s acknowledgement that in-depth discussions are needed…Lord Frost has accepted Clement Beaune’s invitation and looks forward to the discussions in Paris on Thursday.”
Earlier on Monday, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warned the UK would take legal action under the UK-EU Brexit trade deal, saying: “[France’s] threats are completely unwarranted. We allocated the fishing licences completely in line with what is in the trade agreement with the EU…We are simply not going to roll over in the face of these threats.”
France’s complaint is that not enough of its boats are able to gain licences to fish in UK waters.
The Government says it will only grant licences to boats that meet the criteria set out in the Brexit deal – meaning only boats that can show they have fished in UK waters for one day in each of the years between 2012 and 2016 qualify.
However, the dispute centres on access for small boats, with the UK originally granting only 12 licences out of 47 bids. The figure is now 18.
Analysis by Patrick O’Flynn
Anyone baffled by the hostility of France towards Britain needs to understand the devastating blow to French pride constituted by the AUKUS defence deal reached by Australia, the UK and the US in September.
President Emmanuel Macron reacted to the agreement – which involved the collapse of a huge contract for France to deliver submarine technology to Australia – by throwing every toy out of the diplomatic pram.
France recalled its ambassadors to the US and Australia in protest while grandly declaring Britain not a significant enough player to warrant the same treatment.
Instead, it has exacted revenge on us by cutting up rough on Brexit issues.
It encouraged the EC not to give ground in the dispute over the Northern Ireland protocol. And when that failed, it turned to feuding about fishing licences.
UK and Jersey authorities have implemented the fishing deal within the Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the EU exactly as envisaged.
Licences have been granted to French trawlers that can show they have fished British waters in the past, but two percent – just 55 vessels – have been refused permits because they have not provided any evidence of having done so.
With an election campaign looming, Macron has had a new fit of pique. But far from restoring French national esteem, these tantrums have turned France into a joke.
Brussels high-ups are rolling their eyes at France’s calls for support in the fishing row because they understand that, legally, they won’t have a leg to stand on.