After threatening the UK for a long time, France has moved forward its timetable with “A tightening of controls in the Channel” targeting London and the Channel Islands, accused of not having granted enough licenses to French fishermen in view of its commitments made as part of the Brexit agreement, which London disputes.
On the night of Wednesday 27 to Thursday 28 October, the threats became concrete: the Ministry of the Sea announced the verbalization of two “English ships” who fished in the bay of the Seine. One was sanctioned for “obstructing control” and the other, who “Did not appear on the lists of licenses granted in the United Kingdom” by the European Commission and France, was diverted to the port of Le Havre.
The French warnings began at the end of the Council of Ministers on Wednesday: if no progress was made by the beginning of November, Paris would decide to “The ban on the landing of seafood” British in France.
In the evening, a joint press release from the Secretariat for European Affairs and the French Ministry of the Sea came to specify these “targeted measures”, which will come into force on November 2, if no agreement is found:
- “Ban on landing of British fishing vessels in designated ports”, that is to say the six French ports where disembarkation is currently taking place;
- a “Strengthening of controls” health, customs and safety of British ships;
- a particular zeal in “Checks on lorries to and from the United Kingdom”, whatever their cargo.
“It’s not war, it’s a fight”
Several senior French and British politicians have spoken to each other in the media since, to justify their position, on the French side, and to ask for a little calm and a resumption of dialogue, on the British side.
“No other subject of European cooperation with the United Kingdom will be able to progress without restoring confidence and fully implementing the agreements signed”, summarized the French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune. He then added on CNews :
“Now we have to speak the language of force because I fear that, unfortunately, this British government understands only that. I have the impression that they understood that they had to come back to the discussion table. But if they don’t, we will continue. “
The Minister of the Sea, Annick Girardin, called on the European Commission to “Work harder to ensure that the United Kingdom meets its commitments”. “It’s not war, it’s a fight. The French and the fishermen have rights, there was an agreement signed; we must enforce this agreement ”, she insisted on RTL.
“It’s important to stay calm and move towards de-escalation. Our door is always open ”, said British Environment Minister George Eustice, addressing the issue to Parliament. “The escalation is not due to France”, replied the Prime Minister, Jean Castex. “We are always open to discussions, morning, noon and evening”, but, he said, “The British must respect their commitments”.
Earlier, a spokesperson for the British government had called the verbalizations of ships a “Disappointing and disproportionate”, adding that there had been “No formal contact” with the French government upstream. Mr. Eustice warns, however, that if these threats were fully implemented after November 2, ” they will be the subject of appropriate and calibrated feedback ”.
Disagreement on the number of licenses granted
The fire has been smoldering for weeks: among the areas of friction since the Brexit between Paris and London, that of fishing remains deep, although only affecting a relatively small number of players. Some 80% of British seafood is destined for export, with France as the first recipient country within the EU.
The post-Brexit agreement, concluded in extremis at the end of 2020 between London and Brussels, provides that European fishermen can continue to work in certain British waters, provided they can prove that they were fishing there previously. But the French and the British are arguing over the nature and extent of the supporting documents to be provided, and over the number of licenses already granted.
Great Britain assures that fishing licenses had been granted to 98% of European boats which had requested them. “The Europeans asked for 2,127 licenses, the British gave 1,913 licenses, that’s 90.3%, the figure is false”, retorted Annick Girardin Thursday. London admits that around thirty boats have not yet obtained licenses, due to a lack of information. “All those who do not have a license are French, apart from one or two Belgians. Clearly the 10% missing, it is the French “, wondered Mme Girardin.
According to the French government, these “Missing licenses” concern in particular fishermen from the Hauts-de-France region or regularly fishing off the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey.
The situation is also very tense in the region of Boulogne-sur-Mer (Pas-de-Calais), where dozens of fishermen have not been able to access British waters for months. Stéphane Pinto is in this case: “Since April, we have been at more than 50% of operating losses”, he said, believing that it has been a long time since the state and the EU “Should have reacted”. On the Norman side, the president of the regional fisheries committee, Dimitri Rogoff, is satisfied to see the subject “At the top of the stack” and warns that the fishermen are going “Harden the tone locally”.
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France takes action with “targeted measures” against British fishing boats in the English Channel