French fishermen who claim they have been ‘humiliated’ by Britain over post-Brexit operating licences have staged blockades at the Port of Calais and Channel Tunnel rail link in an effort to disrupt trade.
Several trawlers manoeuvred inside the Port of Calais on Friday to hold up the passage of two ferries at the major entry point for British goods coming into Europe.
At the Channel Tunnel, fishermen erected barricades of burning wooden pallets and lit smoke canisters on nearby roads – briefly blocking access to the freight terminal and causing long queues of traffic.
The fishermen held aloft red flares as they circled their boats outside Saint-Malo to block the boat’s path. “We’re hostage to politics,” said Pascal Lecler, one of the fishermen in Saint-Malo. “It doesn’t make us happy to be here, but it can’t go on.”
The Eurotunnel train service put on 12 additional freight trains to clear the backlog following the protest.
The fishermen who manned the roadblocks said they wanted to see concessions from the UK by 10 December. “If we don’t get anywhere ... believe me, the English will not have a magic Christmas. We’ll ruin the party,” warned Jean Michel Fournier, a fisherman from near Boulogne.
Six French fishing boats from the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer blocked access to the Port of Calais in a short but impactful 90-minute operation.
Gerard Romiti, the chairman of France’s powerful National Fisheries Committee, said: “This is to demonstrate how professional fishermen come together in response to the UK’s provocative, contemptuous and humiliating attitude towards them.”
Mr Romiti said Friday’s blockades should be viewed as “warning shots”.
Boris Johnson’s spokesman responded: “We are disappointed by threats of protest activity. It will be a matter for the French to ensure that there are no illegal actions and that trade is not affected.”
Before Brexit, French fishermen had free rights to fish in UK waters under EU law and only had to apply to their own government for a licence.
But earlier this year the new Brexit agreement came into force, meaning French fishermen now need to apply to the UK for a licence.
At present, all vessels that fished in UK waters “for at least four years between 2012 and 2016” should be granted the same level of access until at least 2026, when it will be up to the UK and France to negotiate new deals.
The UK is asking French boats to provide tracking and fishing quota data for those years to qualify for a permit. The French have protested, saying smaller vessels under 12 metres do not collect this data and are being unfairly punished.
The row over fishing rights comes at a time of strained relations between London and Paris, with clashes in recent days over the issue of migrants and Channel crossings.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “We look to the French authorities to ensure the free flow of traffic and to ensure that trade is not disrupted. We’re also working closely with affected transport companies and local partners in Kent to provide any necessary support.”
The spokesperson said there was no change in the UK’s position on the issue of licences to French trawlers under the terms of the post-Brexit Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
“We’ve been clear about our process in terms of the TCA and licencing fishing vessels, which hasn’t changed,” he said. “We’ll continue to work with fishing vessels if they can come forward and provide further evidence as per the requirements under the TCA.”
Additional reporting by agencies