Downing Street has said it does not recognise the European Union’s Friday deadline for resolving the ongoing fishing row with France.
The European Commission has said the dispute over post-Brexit fishing licences must be settled by December 10.
But No 10 said on Thursday that the UK had “never set a deadline” itself, and the EU cut-off point is “not one we’re working to”.
Environment Secretary George Eustice is expected to hold further talks with EU environment commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius on Friday.
‘Evidence rather than deadlines’
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “I’m not aware of certainly any communication we’ve had from the French government, certainly not to the Prime Minister. There’s a technical process still ongoing based on evidence rather than set deadlines.
“We’ve never set a deadline. I recognise they themselves have set one but it’s not one we’re working to.
“George Eustice spoke to commissioner Sinkevicius last night about the progress on a range of licensing issues and they agreed to speak again later this week to take stock.
“All the talks on this issue have been constructive.”
The row surrounds licences to fish in UK and Channel Islands waters under the terms of Britain’s post-Brexit trade deal with the EU – the Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA).
France says Britain has not handed out enough licences to its fishermen, while the UK Government has insisted the overwhelming majority of applications for licences have been granted.
Last week, France’s minister for Europe Clement Beaune said the dispute is not a Franco-British issue but a problem between the whole of the EU and the UK.
He called on the EU to take retaliatory measures against Britain if the December 10 deadline is missed.
Mr Beaune said French punitive measures – such as a ban on British trawlers landing their catches in French ports and tighter customs checks to hamper cross-Channel trade – remain “on the table” if a deal cannot be reached.
He told French radio network RTL: “It was the European Commission that told the British – so all of Europe together – that if you don’t make big gestures with a lot of licences on December 10, we are no longer in a European dialogue.”
On the potential ban by the French, Mr Beaune added: “It’s one of the possible options but it’s better, to be honest, to have European measures.
“All options are on the table, because it’s better to have a dialogue, but… if it doesn’t bear fruit we can take European measures.”
France’s maritime minister Annick Girardin also warned of European retaliatory measures, telling the Ouest France newspaper that “London is testing the solidarity of the European Union” in the spat.
The fishing dispute sits against a backdrop of tensions between Britain and France, recently inflamed by the deaths of 27 people attempting to cross the Channel in November.