French fishermen issue blockade warning to UK

French fishermen give ministers 15 days to grant them licences to work in UK waters before they ‘ruin Christmas’: Trawlermen threaten to start a blockade as Lord Frost dismisses ‘disproportionate’ threats from Paris to cut Britain’s power supply

  • French fisherman warned they could blockade port of Calais and Channel Tunnel
  • Threat represents a major escalation of the post-Brexit row over fishing licences
  • French figures have warned that the row could put the UK’s power supply at risk 
  • Government’s Brexit chief Lord Frost dismissed the threat as ‘disproportionate’  

French fishermen have given the UK a two-week deadline to grant them licences to work in British waters before they start blockades.

Skippers in the largest fishing port in France have issued the warning amid a rumbling row over post-Brexit paperwork.

Those in charge of the Boulogne-sur-Mer fleet have accused the British of not respecting post-Brexit agreements.

They said action could include blocking the Channel Tunnel and the port of Calais in moves which could threaten crucial supply chains in the run up to Christmas.  

The fishing dispute has escalated in recent days, with France suggesting it could cut UK power supplies in retaliation.

Lord Frost, the UK Government’s Brexit chief, has dismissed the threats from Paris, suggesting they are ‘disproportionate’ as he questioned if the rest of the EU would ‘go along with it’. 

French fishermen have given the UK a two-week deadline to grant them licences to work in British waters before they start blockades (file photo of fishing boats moored at the port of Le Guilvinec in June last year)

The fishing dispute has escalated in recent days, with France suggesting it could cut UK power supplies in retaliation. French fishermen are pictured in May this year

Lord Frost, the UK Government’s Brexit chief, has dismissed the threats from Paris, suggesting they are ‘disproportionate’ and questioned if the rest of the EU would ‘go along with it’

Britain has granted only 12 of 47 small French vessels fishing rights in UK waters.

British officials say those denied were unable to prove that they had fished in the six-to-12 mile nautical zone in the years before the UK left the EU.

But the French fishermen say the small boats are not fitted with the right technology to prove their historical fishing links and locations. 

Luc Ramet said his boat, the Charles-de-Foucauld, had been refused a licence at the start of the scallop season.

‘My boat is new and newly registered,’ said Mr Ramet. ‘It’s for this reason that the British are refusing me the license.’

Mr Ramet said that ‘if nothing is done in 15 days’ then he and his fellow skippers were ready to ‘take direct action’ to block Britain.

Christophe Lomel, another Boulogne skipper, said: ‘It’s illogical, licences have been given to boats which hardly ever go to British waters. I’ve been going there for 35 years and have not been given a licence.’

It follows Olivier Lepretre, chief of the powerful northern France fisheries committee, saying: ‘If negotiating fails, we will stop all French and European products reaching the UK, and we will stop all British products reaching Europe.’

Referring to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Mr Lepretre said: ‘Unless Boris backs down, the Brits will not have so many nice things to eat this Christmas. I hope it doesn’t come to that.’

French fishermen have accused the UK of creating a complex and onerous application process and failing to grant them enough permits to make a living. 

The threat of blockades is likely to increase fears of shortages of certain goods this winter as families are already racing to buy food for Christmas, including frozen turkeys, party snacks, puddings and chocolate.

Trade between the ports of Dover and Calais is estimated to be worth around £100billion every year. 

The flow of goods between both accounts for nearly a quarter of the UK’s major port traffic with the EU, according to a 2019 University of Hamburg study on the effects of Brexit.

The row over Channel fishing rights erupted in May, when Britain sent two Royal Navy gunships to Jersey after dozens of French fishing boats vowed to blockade the island’s harbour.

France’s Europe minister Clement Beaune warned the dispute was putting UK power supplies at risk. 

‘The Channel Islands, the UK, are dependent on us for their energy supply,’ he told the Europe 1 radio station yesterday. 

‘They think they can live on their own and badmouth Europe as well. And because it doesn’t work, they indulge in one-upmanship, and in an aggressive way.’

Jersey and neighbouring Guernsey rely on French power and two undersea cables also provide electricity to more than three million homes on the British mainland.

Mr Beaune said other EU governments could take punitive measures against the UK, such as imposing tariffs.

Families are already racing to buy food for Christmas, including frozen turkeys, party snacks, puddings and chocolate, amid fears of shortages

Lord Frost hit back last night as he accused France of being disingenuous over the UK’s position on fishing access.

He told a Conservative Party conference fringe event in Manchester: ‘We have granted 98 per cent of the licence applications from EU boats to fish in our waters according to the different criteria in the Trade and Co-operation Agreement, so we do not accept that we are not abiding by that agreement.

‘We have been extremely generous and the French, focusing in on a small category of boats and claiming we have behaved unreasonably, I think is not really a fair reflection of the efforts we have made.’

The Cabinet minister conceded that Britain ‘would have liked a different sort of fisheries deal’ in the Brexit deal but said the UK was striving to deliver on the agreed terms.

‘We agreed this deal and we are implementing in good faith, so I think it is unreasonable to suggest we are not,’ he continued.

‘If there is a reaction from France, they will have to persuade others in the EU to go along with it, and it does need to be proportionate.’  

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