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A French Gendarmerie patrol boat, in Le Havre, France, on Oct. 28.SARAH MEYSSONNIER/Reuters

French and British officials met Monday to talk about fishing, as the deadline for a threatened French blockade of British boats and trucks loomed in just a few hours.

The European Commission said it had called a meeting involving officials from Britain, France and the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey, which are self-governing British Crown dependencies with control over their own territorial waters, “to allow for a swift solution on the outstanding issues” in the dispute over French fishing boats’ access to British waters.

The spat has escalated into a major dispute. France has threatened to bar British boats from some of its ports and tighten checks on boats and trucks carrying British goods if more French vessels aren’t licensed to fish in U.K. waters by Tuesday. Paris has also suggested it might restrict energy supplies to the Channel Islands, which are heavily dependent on French electricity.

The French president’s office said Monday the port blockade would begin at midnight if no compromise is found.

The U.K. downplayed the significance of Monday’s meeting, saying it was “part of the ongoing, continuing discussions that have been going on for months now.”

“We continue to have discussions with our French counterparts at a number of different levels,” said Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman, Max Blain.

Both sides have accused each other of contravening the Brexit trade deal that the U.K. signed when it left the EU.

Paris says authorities in the Channel Islands and Britain have denied permits to French boats that have fished in waters where they have long sailed, scooping up lobster, sea snails, sea bream and other fish from the English Channel. Britain says it has granted 98 per cent of applications from EU vessels, a proportion that French authorities have questioned.

Britain says a few dozen boats have not been given permits because they have not shown the required paperwork to back up their applications.

“We absolutely stand ready to grant more licenses should the requisite evidence be provided,” said Mr. Blain.

As Monday’s talks took place, Jersey, which is only 14 miles off the coast of France, issued 49 temporary licenses to French boats. The government of Jersey said the vessels will be able to fish in Jersey waters until Jan. 31 to “grant time” for further data that is necessary for it issue permanent licenses.

“We will continue to work closely with French authorities, the U.K. and the EU Commission ... to ensure that vessels which are entitled to a license are able to receive one and continue fishing in Jersey’s territorial waters in accordance with their historic track record,” it said.

Fishing is a tiny industry economically, but one that looms large symbolically for both Britain and France, which have long and cherished maritime traditions. Since the start of the year, both sides have control of their waters, subject to the post-Brexit trade deal.

Dimitri Rogoff, who heads the regional fishing committee on the French coast near Jersey, said French crews have been providing paperwork for 10 months. He said he didn’t understand why Britain is making a big deal over “20 or 30 boats,” and that he hoped that the French government’s threats could “incite our British friends to be a bit more conciliatory.”

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warned France that the U.K. will “not roll over” in the face of what she termed “unreasonable” threats from Paris.

“The French need to withdraw those threats, otherwise we will use the dispute resolution mechanism in the EU deal to take action,” Ms. Truss told BBC radio. “We’re simply not going to roll over in the face of these threats.”

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