‘We are ready to block everything’: French fishermen threaten UK if licence row not sorted by Friday

·3-min read
In this file photo taken on May 6 French fishing boats protest in front of the port of Saint Helier, Jersey (AFP via Getty Images)

French fishermen on Thursday gave Britain 24 hours to resolve a Brexit fishing licences row or they would launch blockades which could spoil Christmas for millions of families in the UK.

They have set a deadline of Friday for the Government to offer a solution to the licences stand-off or they will start organising blockades of Calais, Dunkirk and the Channel Tunnel which could throttle the flow of goods across the Channel.

Benoît Firmin, of the Hauts de France fishing committee, stressed that blockades, if they go ahead, are set to be more widespread than previous protests.

On the impact on Christmas supplies, he told the BBC: ”Already there’s a lack of food, petrol and staff (in the UK).

“Are we going to make things worse? Maybe, but there’s a lot of frustration among the community, so fair enough.”

Laurent Merlin, whose boat is based at Boulogne-sur-Mer and whose family had until Brexit fished in British waters for 25 years, added that fishermen were waiting until tomorrow but would then start to retaliate

“We will create as much disruption as we can by blocking primary goods, the things Britain needs the most,” he warned.

“We saw the gas shortage. We will try to create another shortage of something else.

“We are ready to block everything, Calais, Dunkirk, the Channel Tunnel.”

However, the UK Government insists that it has been “reasonable and fully in line with our commitments in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement” in issuing fishing licences.

A spokeswoman said: “The government has granted 98 per cent of licence applications from EU vessels to fish in our waters.”

The row centres on French fishermen being able to show they have a history of fishing in the UK’s six to 12 nautical mile zone between 2012 and 2016 to get a licence.

The threat from French fishermen came as relations between France and Britain have hit a recent low with the fresh Brexit bust-up over the Northern Ireland Protocol, the “Aukus” row over the UK/US deal with Australia on a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, and the cross-Channel migration dispute.

Shipping and retail bosses in Britain are also already warning that supply chain problems are likely to mean a shortage of some toys and other goods in Britain this Christmas, and advising families not to leave their festive season buying until the last minute.

Rishi Sunak sought to allay worries, insisting that there would be a “good amount of Christmas presents available” this year despite the transport issues.

The Chancellor on Wednesday met fellow finance ministers from the G7 group of leading world economies, the US, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Canada, and they agreed to work more closely to solve the supply chain crisis.

Speaking to the BBC in Washington DC, the Chancellor said: “We’re doing absolutely everything we can to mitigate some of these challenges.”

However, as Britain is hit by a series of crises:

  • Retailers expressed fears ongoing supply chain problems will result in higher prices and empty shelves into December, but a ports boss said supply chains were “robust” and “there’s no need to panic”.

  • A build-up of cargo in Felixstowe has led to shipping company Maersk opting to divert giant container ship deliveries away from the Suffolk port, with smaller vessels then bringing goods to the UK.

  • Philippe Commaret, managing director for customers at EDF, which has taken tens of thousands of customers from energy companies that have gone bust, suggested the Government may have to move from the “supplier of last resort” system to the next level of “special adminstration” for failing firms given the scale of the crisis.

  • Sir Ian Cheshire, former boss of Kingfisher and ex-chairman of Debenhams, said Britain was being hit by a triple whammy of supply chain problems as economies restart, inflationary pressures, and short-term issues with Brexit.

Millions of households in the UK face a winter cost-of-living squeeze with soaring energy bills, higher inflation, the axing of the £20 pandemic uplift in Universal Credit, and looming National Insurance rises in the spring.

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