By Layli Foroudi and Manuel Ausloos
CALAIS, France -French fishermen temporarily blockaded the port of Calais and Channel Tunnel rail link in an effort to disrupt trade between Britain and the continent on Friday, escalating a row over licences to fish in British waters.
Fishing rights plagued Brexit talks for years, not because of their economic importance but because of their political significance for both President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Britain and the EU agreed to set up a licensing system to grant fishing vessels access to each other’s waters but France says it has not been given the full number it is due, while Britain says only those lacking the correct documentation have not been granted.
Several trawlers manoeuvred inside the port to hold up the passage of two ferries operated by DFDS and P&O as they approached Calais earlier on Friday, a major entry point to the European market for British goods.
At the Channel Tunnel terminal in nearby Coquelles, trucks and cars quickly tailed back towards the highway after the fishermen erected barricades of burning wooden pallets and lit smoke canisters.
The fishermen manning the roadblocks said they wanted to see progress by Dec. 10.
“If we don’t get anywhere … believe me, the English will not have a magic Christmas. We’ll ruin the party,” said Jean Michel Fournier, a fisherman from near Boulogne.
Britain says it is respecting the post-Brexit arrangements while France says Britain is not honouring its word.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain’s position on issuing fishing licences hadn’t changed and London was monitoring the protests.
“We look to the French authorities to ensure the free flow of traffic and trade to ensure the trade is not disrupted,” he added.
France last week said it was still waiting for 150 licences from Britain and the Channel Islands. The dispute focuses on access to territorial water 6-12 miles from the coast.
Britain denies discriminating against French fishermen and says 98 percent of fishing licences have been granted to European Union boats since Brexit.
That figure includes the roughly 1,700 licences issued to EU vessels to operate in more distant waters situated in the UK’s exclusive economic zone, which extends 12-200 nautical miles from the coast.
Dover – Calais is the shortest sea route between Britain and the EU and has been one of Britain’s main arteries for European trade since the Middle Ages. Before Brexit and the pandemic, 1.8 million trucks per year were routed through Calais.
Earlier in the day, fishermen blocked a small British cargo vessel outside the port of Saint-Malo. The Normandy Trader plies the short route between Jersey and France. France says Jersey, a British Crown Dependency, has also failed to issue licences due to its fishermen under a post-Brexit deal.
“The negotiations continue and we want them to know that we will not be the forgotten consequence of Brexit,” said fisherman Nicolas Descharles, who would normally operate in British waters every day through the autumn but has not received a permit.
In October, France briefly seized a British scallop dredger off its northern coast for allegedly operating without a legitimate permit, and both countries have this year sent patrol vessels to waters off Jersey.