Brexit: trade and travel disrupted as French fishermen blockade ports and Eurotunnel

Brexit: trade and travel disrupted as French fishermen blockade ports and Eurotunnel
Credit: Belga

On Friday, the national committee for the French fishing industry has coordinated a blockade of three French ports as well as lorries bearing freight to the UK on the Eurotunnel. The French industry is protesting against, they claim, the unfair access to European fishing waters still enjoyed by UK fishing vessels.

The actions are taking place at three ports on the northern French coast: Saint-Malo, Ouistreham, and Calais. Tens of fishing boats have prevented ferries arriving from the UK from entering French ports, with the ports effectively closed to incoming vessels between midday and 2 PM, La Voix Du Nord reports.

Further actions are due to take place between 2 PM and 4 PM when freight lorries will be blocked from boarding trains to go through the Channel Tunnel.

The aim of the actions is to disrupt trade flows between the UK and France in the hope that the French Government will take a stronger stance against British fishing vessels that continue to fish in French waters. Olivier Lepretre, President of the northern French fishing committee, gave voice to the frustration felt by many in the sector: “The British have access to the European market whilst we do not have access to British fishing waters.”

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Lepretre expressed his hope that the French Government would listen to the needs of the industry but added that disruptive actions would progress from symbolic gestures and “show teeth” should the government fail to act.

Gérard Romiti, President of the national French committee, echoed Lepretre’s sentiment: “We have now waited mouths open for 11 months (since the UK Withdrawal agreement came into force). Professional patience has its limits. Too many fishermen have been left by the wayside.”

“We want our licences back”

Much of the issue lies with the fact that since the UK’s departure from the EU, it no longer has automatic rights to fish in EU waters and vice versa. However, the matter of fishing rights was a thorny issue during the Brexit negotiations and remains a point of contention for both the EU and UK.

Long-term solutions have yet to be decided bilaterally but in the mean time, fishing permits have been granted by both sides to boats that wish to continue fishing in the other’s waters.

Since January 2021, France has obtained over 960 licences to provide to French fishing vessels so that they can continue to fish in UK waters. However, over 150 of these are being held by administrative powers in Paris, putting pressure on the French fishing sector that does not have enough permits for those who need them.

Angered by this bureaucratic complication as well as the British vessels that, the French industry argues, unjustly continue to fish in French waters, these actions will, they hope, spur the French Government into action.

The European Commission on Wednesday issued the UK Government with an ultimatum to resolve the issue on their side by 10 December.

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