French fishermen disrupt Eurotunnel to protest over licenses
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The Brexit row over licences to fish in British waters escalated on Friday as French fishermen temporarily blockaded the port of Calais and Channel Tunnel in a bid to disrupt the transport of goods between France and the UK.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron lay utmost political value on fishing licences.
As part of the Brexit deal, Britain and the EU agreed upon a licensing system to grant fishing vessels access to each other’s waters.
However, France says Britain is not honouring its word, accusing it of not granting French vessels the full number they are due.
Last week, France said it was still waiting for 150 licences from Britain and the Channel Islands.
Britain, meanwhile, says only the vessels lacking the correct documentation are missing out on relevant licences.
Jean Luc Hall, director-general of the National Committee for Maritime Fisheries and Marine Farming, said: “The UK is the only one to benefit 100 percent from the agreement reached last December 24.”
Fishing companies that don’t have access to British waters, he said, are experiencing 30 to 50 percent loss in turnover.
He complained: “It is not normal that 11 months later we are still at the same point on a number of issues.”
Speaking of the blockade, he said: “Our coordinated action is intended to show that we have the capacity to block the ports, block the Channel Tunnel and therefore paralyse the British economy.
“The idea is not to cause harm, but to show that we have the capacity to react.”
Mr Hall hopes to get “British authorities to reflect on the issue”.
Olivier Leprêtre, president of the Hauts-de-France Regional Fisheries Committee, said: “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen such motivation in the profession because everyone is afraid for their future.
“We reserve the right to carry out other blockade actions, including in places not affected by Brexit.”
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It comes as the European Commission, which has been mediating the talks between the two nations, urged the UK to resolve the fisheries issue by December 10.
Calling for “more firmness” from the Commission, Mr Call said it is them who are “supposed to enforce this agreement”.
He described the December 10 ultimatum as a first “encouraging sign”.
He said: “That is to say that if on December 10 there is no significant progress, a priori it [the EU] could implement the retaliatory measures provided for by the agreement.”
In a leaked letter to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen last month, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said: “If no satisfactory solution is found in this context, the European Union will have to apply Article 506 of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement and take corrective measures, in a manner proportionate to the economic and social damage resulting from the breaches.”
A UK Government spokesperson said: “We have licensed nearly 1,700 EU vessels overall; our approach to licensing has been reasonable and fully in line with our commitments in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.”
A Downing Street spokesman added: “We are disappointed by the threats of protests.
“It will be up to the French to ensure that illegal actions are not taken and that trade is not affected.”
Additional reporting by Maria Ortega
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