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Brexit fishing tensions flare after French blockade

The French government called for a quick implementation of a post-Brexit accord on mutual access to fishing waters on Friday, after French fisherman blocked trucks trying to bring in catches from Britain overnight.

Brexit fishing tensions flare after French blockade
French fishermen stand near burning tyres as they gather as part of a protest action against the delay in granting licenses to access British waters at the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer on April 22, 2021. (Photo by DENIS CHARLET / AFP)

“We’re acting within the spirit of European solidarity and cooperation with the UK, but the urgency demands an acceleration of our collective efforts,” Europe Minister Clément Beaune and Maritime Minister Annick Girardin said in a statement.

More than a hundred fisherman launched the blockade late Thursday at Boulogne-sur-Mer, France’s busiest fishing hub, to protest a “sham” deal on access in place since Britain left the European Union on January 1.

Despite a provisional trade accord, they say UK authorities have granted licences to only 22 of the 120 French boats seeking permission to fish between six and 12 nautical miles from the British coast.

“A full granting of access licenses for British waters, and a quick resolution of crucial questions including the use of forward bases, must be resolved as soon as possible,” the French ministers said.

Along with access to UK waters, the accord calls for French boats to be able to unload their catches at British ports so they can then be brought quickly to France by truck.

The European Parliament is to vote Tuesday on ratifying the EU-UK trade and cooperation agreement (TCA) that defines post-Brexit relations with Britain.

READ ALSO: ‘For over 40 years British and French fishermen have been working side by side. Brexit will change all that’

“It’s not enough to have a nice letter – we need action,” said Olivier Leprêtre, head of the regional fishing committee, in response to the French ministers’ statement.

“For now it’s impossible to unload fish at English ports,” he said, saying French boats are instead having to unload catches from British waters in Denmark.

British authorities contested the industry’s claims, saying 87 French boats had received licenses for fishing within six to 12 nautical miles from its coast.

Concerns raised 

“The UK maintains a consistent, evidence-based approach to licensing EU vessels using information supplied by the European Commission,” a spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said in a statement.

“We do not recognise the figures that have been shared by the French fishing industry and consider this reaction to be unjustified,” the spokesman added.

“Our concerns regarding the protest action have been raised directly with the French authorities.”

READ ALSO: France warns UK: ‘Our fishermen are as important as yours’

Leprêtre acknowledged that “very, very few” drivers tried to get past the blockade, just outside a checkpoint where trucks arriving from Britain at nearby Dunkirk or Calais must now undergo hygiene checks.

Most had advance warning and chose to unload their fish deliveries elsewhere, while several British-flagged Dutch ships also avoided the Boulogne fish market and instead headed to Belgium.

The protest was to end Thursday morning with a sale of fish at cut-rate prices, also aimed at denouncing EU policies on quota allotments.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Amber alert: Travellers to France warned of another busy weekend at UK ports

A week after chaotic scenes and 6-hour queues at the port of Dover, the British motoring organisation the AA has issued an amber traffic warning, and says it expects cross-Channel ports to be very busy once again this weekend as holidaymakers head to France.

Amber alert: Travellers to France warned of another busy weekend at UK ports

The AA issued the amber warning on Thursday for the whole of the UK, the first time that it has issued this type of warning in advance.

Roads across the UK are predicted to be extremely busy due to a combination of holiday getaways, several large sporting events and a rail strike – but the organisation said that it expected traffic to once again be very heavy around the port of Dover and the Channel Tunnel terminal at Folkestone.

Last weekend there was gridlock in southern England and passengers heading to France enduring waits of more than six hours at Dover, and four hours at Folkestone.

The AA said that while it doesn’t expect quite this level of chaos to be repeated, congestion was still expected around Dover and Folkestone.

On Thursday ferry operator DFDS was advising passengers to allow two hours to get through check-in and border controls, while at Folkestone, the Channel Tunnel operators only said there was a “slightly longer than usual” wait for border controls.

In both cases, passengers who miss their booked train or ferry while in the queue will be accommodated on the next available crossing with no extra charge.

Last weekend was the big holiday ‘getaway’ weekend as schools broke up, and a technical fault meant that some of the French border control team were an hour late to work, adding to the chaos. 

But the underlying problems remain – including extra checks needed in the aftermath of Brexit, limited space for French passport control officers at Dover and long lorry queues on the motorway heading to Folkestone.

OPINION UK-France travel crisis will only be solved when the British get real about Brexit

The port of Dover expects 140,000 passengers, 45,000 cars and 18,000 freight vehicles between Thursday and Sunday, and queues were already starting to build on Thursday morning.

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