French fishermen could block the Channel Tunnel linking France and the United Kingdom in protest over the allocation of post-Brexit fishing licences, warned French member of parliament Jean-Pierre Pont on Wednesday.
‘Be warned,’ said Pont, who is a member of parliament for President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling La Republique en Marche party, representing the coastal town of Boulogne-sur-Mer.
‘Since the British are refusing to honour what they signed, as with other Anglo-Saxons in another area, the French fishermen of Boulogne-sur-Mer may be obliged, after nine months of useless patience, to envisage ways to retaliate against the UK – for example by blocking ports or the entry of lorries towards the UK through the tunnel,’ added Pont.
French skippers blockaded the harbour at St Helier on the Channel Island of Jersey in May when the row escalated over fishing rights
France accused Britain of playing politics with post-Brexit fishing rights on Wednesday, after London granted licenses to fish in its territorial waters to only 12 small French boats out of 47 applications.
Fishing rights have been one of the key battlegrounds between Britain and France in their post-Brexit negotiations.
Earlier this year, a dispute over the licences led both France and Britain to send patrol vessels off the shores of Jersey, which is a self-governing British Crown Dependency.
Diplomatic relations between France and the UK have hit a low point in recent weeks.
Earlier this month, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told France to get a grip and give allies in the United States and Australia a break over a row about a trilateral nuclear submarine deal that tore up a separate French contract.
Jean-Pierre Pont, a member of Macron’s party who represents the coastal town of Boulogne-sur-Mer, made the threat
Emmanuel Macron’s hard-left maritime minister, Annick Girardin, railed against London for granting licences to just 12 of the 47 EU small vessels which applied to cast their nets in British waters.
‘This is another British refusal to implement the terms of the Brexit deal despite all the work being done together,’ said Ms Girardin, who threatened to cut off electricity to Jersey when the row escalated in May.
‘French fishing must not be held hostage by the British for political ends,’ she added.
France’s Europe minister Clement Beaune angrily declared: ‘We will not hesitate to take retaliatory action, collectively.’
Britain said the majority of the vessels were denied licences because they failed to provide evidence that they had fished in the six-to-12-mile nautical zone in the years before the UK’s referendum on leaving the EU.
The Government of Jersey added to French woes on Wednesday as it announced it has turned down licence applications by 75 French fishing boats.
In a statement, it said that of the 170 boats which applied, 64 were being granted licences, with a further 31 receiving temporary licences to allow them more time to show they have a track record of operating in its waters.
Jersey external relations minister Ian Gorst said the island’s government had taken ‘a pragmatic, reasonable and evidence-based approach’ to the issue.
Emmanuel Macron’s hard-left maritime minister, Annick Girardin (pictured at a meeting in Cambodia in 2015), railed against London for granting licences to just 12 of the 47 EU small vessels which applied to cast their nets in British waters.
The rejection of so many licence applications comes amid fears that British waters will again be invaded by furious French fisherman, like the skippers who blockaded Jersey in May.
Last night, Mr Beaune told French TV: ‘We understand and we share the exasperation [of our fishermen] because it is simply unacceptable not to respect an agreement that has been signed. We will negotiate until the very last moment to renew some of these permits and obtain some more.
‘And yes, we have been saying at every level, including the president [Emmanuel Macron] to Prime Minister Johnson, that we cannot cooperate in confidence on other matters until they abide by the Brexit deal they signed.
‘I hope we do not end up in that position, but of course we have said that there are retaliatory measures which are possible according to the Brexit agreement.’
The EU minister added: ‘Commercial measures on certain British products, for example. Or on energy matters. We have several areas in which the British depend more on us. And in this over-arching agreement, if they do not respect the part on fishing, we can take measures [against them] together as the European Union and we will not hesitate to do so.’
Olivier Le Nezet, president of Brittany fishermen’s committee, called the figure of 12 out of 47 a ‘declaration of war on the water and on the land’.
He added that French fishermen would make sure ‘not a single British product lands on French soil’.
In May, the row over Channel fishing rights escalated when furious French skippers threatened to block UK goods from entering Calais.
Britain sent two Royal Navy gunships to Jersey after 100 French fishing boats vowed to block the island’s harbour.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs insisted last night that almost 1,700 larger French boats have already been allowed to fish off the coast of Britain.
A spokesman said: ‘The Government has this year issued a large number of licences to EU vessels seeking to fish in our exclusive economic zone (12-to-200 nautical mile zone) and our territorial sea (six-to-12 nautical mile zone).
‘Our approach has been reasonable and fully in line with our commitments in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
‘As regards the six-to-12 nautical miles zone, as set out in the TCA, EU vessels must provide evidence of a track record of fishing activity in those waters.’ They added: ‘We have been considering applications for vessels of under 12m (39ft) in length to fish in this zone.’