French fishermen warn of fresh protests in licence dispute

Trawlermen’s leader suggests action may target cross-Channel trade

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Tuesday 23 November 2021 16:31
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French fishermen have warned of the “imminent” resumption of disruptive protests in the English Channel, as talks over licences to operate in UK territorial waters drag on without resolution.

The chair of the Northern France Regional Fisheries Committee, Olivier Lepretre, said that sailors were ready to “cut off” UK access to European markets, but refused to spell out how this would be done.

One French fisherman awaiting a licence suggested it could involve an attempt to block British vessels’ access to French ports from Friday this week.

Stephane Fournier told the Reuters news agency: “All trans-Channel traffic (and) all freight in all the ports of France will be blocked.”

London and Paris have been at loggerheads for months over how many licences should be allocated to French vessels under the terms of the post-Brexit Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA).

France’s president Emmanuel Macron has accused the UK of failing to grant permission to operate to enough small boats, which have traditionally fished for scallops and other seafood around the Channel Islands.

But Britain insists it has approved 98 per cent of applications for licences, rejecting only those which failed to provide evidence of past operations in the same waters.

Mr Lepretre said that fishermen were getting tired of waiting for a political solution, warning: “Action is imminent.”

“Britain wants to get access to the European market? They should give us the licences. If not, we will cut their access,” he said.

Any action was not intended to harm British fishermen, who are “simple fishers like us,” he added.

In April, French fishermen blocked trucks carrying fish from UK waters to processing centres in France. And in May the Royal Navy sent two patrol boats to monitor a blockade of St Helier port in Jersey by French trawlers.

Earlier this month, Paris withdrew a deadline for unilateral action on the licence issue, which one minister warned could include disruption to electricity supplies to the Channel Islands.

The Jersey government declined to comment on the latest French threats.

Prime minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said the UK was “monitoring the situation”.

The spokesperson added: “We are simply enacting the rules as they have been agreed in the TCA. Our position remains that vessels must provide evidence of historic fishing activity in UK territorial waters.

“We are not negotiating over changing our approach.”

The UK has recently awarded an additional licence to a French vessel measuring less than 12 metres on receipt of further evidence about its past operations, he said.

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