French fishermen to blockade ports in protest over UK fishing licences

French fishermen will blockade three French ports and prevent freight trucks going through the Channel Tunnel on Friday to protest against the UK’s failure to grant licences to some of their vessels after Brexit.

Gérard Romiti, president of France’s fisheries committee, described the action as a “warning shot”.

“Our mobilisation tomorrow is a demonstration of our ability to mobilise in the face of the British government’s provocative, arrogant and contemptuous attitude,” he said on Thursday.

He added that the fishermen were not seeking handouts but just wanted to get their licences back. They will target goods transport, using vans to block the port of Saint-Malo between 8am and 9am, the port of Ouistreham at 2pm, and the motorway to the Channel Tunnel, as well as its freight entrance at Calais, between noon and 1.30pm.

The European Commission on Wednesday gave the UK a stern warning over delays in resolving the dispute over the permits and gave it a deadline of December 10 to come to an agreement with the fishermen.

Olivier Leprêtre, head of the fisheries committee in the port of Boulogne, dismissed the Commission’s warning as too weak and insisted that France had been forced to step up action.

He warned that if nothing changed, the port of Boulogne — France’s largest fishing port and Europe’s largest seafood processing, distribution and trading centre — would be “well placed” to block imports and exports of seafood.

The UK claims to have been “very generous” in granting fishing licences to French vessels and has said that French fishermen who are still waiting for their permits or who have been refused licences have not provided evidence of previous fishing in English and Channel Islands waters.

Senior French officials have previously accused the UK government of deliberately targeting France by failing to award some of its vessels the licences to which they are entitled under the Brexit agreement.

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The blockages, which come after months of wrangling between Paris and London over licences, are likely to add to rising tensions between the two governments, intensified by the cross-Channel migrant crisis.

According to France’s fisheries ministry, French vessels had obtained “more than 960 licences” to fish in UK waters and around the Channel Islands but more than 150 were still outstanding.

The disputed licences are mainly for small vessels operating six to 12 nautical miles from UK shores and in the waters surrounding Jersey and Guernsey.

A Downing Street spokesman said the UK government was “disappointed by threats of protest activity”.

They added: “It will be a matter for the French to ensure that there are no illegal actions and that trade is not affected. We continue to monitor the situation closely.”

Additional reporting by Laura Hughes in London


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