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Sunday, December 5, 2021

French fishermen planning to blockade cross-Channel trade in Brexit dispute

French trawlermen are drawing up plans to blockade cross-Channel trade in an escalation in the dispute over post-Brexit fishing licences.

In an effort to secure more permits to operate in UK waters, union bosses are expected to announce a campaign to “disturb British interests” by hitting goods being shipped from Calais to Dover.

Details of the planned action, which is still under discussion amongst regional fisheries councils in northern France, will be announced during a press conference on Thursday, but an industry source told the Telegraph that a blockade “is going to happen for sure”.

“We are going to disturb British interests. We are also going to tell… Boris Johnson once again [that] your fishermen have access to European waters, so we don’t understand why we cannot have access to British waters. That was specified in the Brexit agreement,” said Oliver Lepretre, head of the Hauts-de-France regional fisheries committee.

French fishermen and their government in Paris have accused Britain of failing to implement the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation agreement, which allows European trawlers that had worked in British waters before Brexit to continue doing so.

Benoit Firmin, of the regional fisheries committee in Boulogne-Sur-Mer, said: “The fact is that we have respected our end of the [Brexit] deal, but the UK has not respected its end. We are sorry to see that it’s played out like this.

“This is purely a political ordeal. We are in contact with fishermen in the UK who are in the same situation as us. It’s all politics. Whether the French or British, we all just want to keep working.”

Come to your senses, Germany urges UK

British officials insist they are sticking to the terms of the agreement, and that the French vessels had not been granted licences because their owners failed to prove their historic fishing patterns in UK waters.

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has also threatened to ban British boats from landing in French ports and disrupt cross-Channel trade with stricter checks on lorries. His ministers have warned they will carry out their ultimatum at the start of next month unless the UK grants more licences.

Meanwhile, in the separate row over Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trading regime, Germany urged Boris Johnson to stop playing games with threats to suspend the protocol by triggering Article 16.

“Dear friends in London and in Great Britain, come to your senses please,” Michael Roth, the German European affairs minister, told reporters in Brussels. “This is not a game…. Dammit, we want to work together in partnership and friendship. We don’t want to permanently argue about what we actually have agreed.”

Maros Sefcovic, a European Commission vice-president, said talks to reduce the number of customs controls in Northern Ireland had made limited progress, but insisted the UK would have to seriously consider the EU’s plans in order to end the current impasse. 

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