Boris Johnson refuses to rule out trade war with EU as row over ban on British shellfish grows

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Boris Johnson last night refused to rule out a trade war with Brussels if it didn’t back down in the escalating row over British shellfish.

The European Commission faced a pincer movement as politicians on both sides of the Channel criticised its ban on fresh UK exports.

Brussels has told British fishermen they are barred indefinitely from selling live mussels, oysters, clams and cockles to EU member states.

The shellfish can be transported to the Continent only if they have been treated in purification plants.

Boris Johnson (pictured) last night refused to rule out a trade war with Brussels if it didn’t back down in the escalating row over British shellfish

Environment Secretary George Eustice yesterday denounced the ‘indefensible’ ban, which he said was affecting restaurants on the continent as well as British fishermen, who are already suffering from the closure of the UK hospitality trade.

He said the commission changed its position last week, and that prior to that ‘they had been clear that this was a trade that could continue’.

Mr Eustice said the ban was ‘quite unexpected and really indefensible’, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The truth is, there is no legal barrier to this trade continuing, both on animal health grounds and on public health grounds – there is legal provision within existing EU regulations to allow such trade to continue from the UK.

‘We are just asking the EU to abide by their existing regulations and not to seek to change them.’ Downing Street yesterday left open the possibility the Government could retaliate if the ban is not lifted.

Brussels has told British fishermen they are barred indefinitely from selling live mussels, oysters, clams and cockles to EU member states (stock image)

The Prime Minister’s spokesman refused to rule out blocking the import of some goods from the continent in a tit-for-tat response.

In a boost yesterday, the chairman of the European Parliament’s committee on fisheries declared he was Britain’s ‘best ally’ over the issue.

French MEP Pierre Karleskind said he was not satisfied with the response he had had from the commission on the ban.

‘The fact is that the UK waters did not become dirty on December 31 at midnight, so this really doesn’t make any sense,’ he told the Today programme.

The European Commission faced a pincer movement as politicians on both sides of the Channel criticised its ban on fresh UK exports. Pictured: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove last night compared the tensions with the EU in recent weeks to the start of a flight. He told the Lords’ European Union committee: ‘We all know that when an aeroplane takes off, that’s the point when you sometimes get that increased level of turbulence.

‘But then eventually you reach a cruising altitude and the crew tell you to take your seatbelts off, and enjoy a gin and tonic and some peanuts.

‘We’re not at the gin and tonic and peanuts stage yet but I’m confident we will be.’

Chief Brexit negotiator Lord Frost said the EU was still adjusting to ‘the existence of a genuinely independent actor in their neighbourhood’.

‘I think it’s been more than bumpy, to be honest, in the last six weeks. I think it’s been problematic. I hope we’ll get over this,’ he told the Lords committee. ‘It is going to require a different spirit probably from the EU but I’m sure we are going to see that and see some of this subside as we go forward.’

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