The announced sieges began Thursday in Saint-Malo, with French fishermen throwing smoke bombs and stopping a British cargo ship. After that, fishing vessels in the port of Calais blocked ferry traffic to and from the UK for an hour and a half. Two ships carrying trucks and passengers were delayed. The port of Ouistreham was also temporarily unavailable.
In Coquelles, fishermen in their trucks and cars blocked access to the freight train station via the Channel Tunnel for two hours. This resulted in a traffic jam of more than a hundred trucks. According to a Eurotunnel spokesperson, additional trains were deployed in the afternoon after the protest ended to clear the congestion.
France and the UK have been at loggerheads over fishing rights since Brexit. Under a late 2020 agreement between London and Brussels, European fishermen will be allowed to continue working in British waters, provided they can prove they used to fish there. France and the United Kingdom are squabbling over the nature and extent of evidence to provide. Since January, 960 French fishermen have been granted licenses to fish in British waters and the seas around the Channel Islands, but Paris wants more than 150 additional licenses.
The fishing dispute had already led to a confrontation in Port Hillier on Channel Island Jersey in May this year. Then France and Great Britain deployed naval ships. After that, however, no solution to the ongoing conflict was found. Hence, with their latest move on Friday, the French fishermen wanted to give the British a taste of the future disruptions in the transport of goods to the UK due to the French protests, particularly in the run-up to Christmas.
If we don’t, believe me, the English won’t have a great Christmas. “We’re going to spoil the party,” Jean-Michel Fournier, a fisherman from Boulogne, told Reuters news agency. However, it is not intended to go that far: the European Commission has asked London to find a solution before 10 December.
The British government responded “with disappointment” to the measures on Friday, urging the French government to “ensure that illegal acts are not committed and that trade is not affected”. French President Emmanuel Macron said, on Sunday, that he would support French fishermen. Paris was already on the cusp of “retaliation” against the United Kingdom in the fall: the move was postponed to give Brussels’ negotiations on the issue a chance.
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