French fishers blocked off the Normandy Trader boat at the port of Saint-Malo on Friday as they started a day of protests to mark their anger over the issue of post-Brexit fishing licences.
The fishers lit red flares as they started their protest, which will be followed later on Friday by a planned blockade by other French fishers of the Channel tunnel and the port of Calais, in protest at Britain’s failure to provide more fishing licences since Brexit.
The protests were agreed at a meeting on Thursday as a demonstration of what they said was the contemptuous and humiliating approach of the UK since Brexit.
Gérard Romiti, the president of the national maritime fisheries committee, told reporters that all they wanted was the honouring of the trade and cooperation deal sealed on Christmas Eve last year.
He described the demonstration as legitimate and said it aimed to prevent “British bad faith” from prevailing in the fishing dispute and in other matters.
“We want the agreement signed on 24 December 2020 to be respected,” Romiti said. “We don’t want handouts, we just want our licences back. The UK must abide by the post-Brexit deal. Too many fishermen are still in the dark.
“We have been waiting with bated breath for 11 months. The patience of professionals has limits. We hope this warning shot will be heard,” he said, refusing to rule out further actions in the future.
Romiti said the dispute should be seen in the wider context of the UK’s strained relationship with the EU and France on a range of issues including Northern Ireland and the people-trafficking crisis in the Channel.
“If the question of the licences may seem minor at the European level to some, it’s part of a much bigger picture,” he said. “The long-term relationship with the UK depend on the resolution of this issue.”
Saint-Malo was due to be blocked between 8am and 9am with further protests at Calais port between 12pm and 1.30pm while the A16 access route to Eurotunnel was due to be blocked between 2pm and 6pm. There will also be similar actions in Ouistreham on Friday afternoon.
For Brexiters who dreamed of taking back control, France is too close for comfort
The dispute broke out after Britain left the EU, with Paris saying London should have issued more French boats with licences to fish in British territorial waters. Britain claims it is respecting post-Brexit arrangements.
Tension flared in October, when France briefly seized a British fishing boat in its waters, and both countries sent maritime vessels to waters off the Channel island of Jersey earlier this year.
The argument between France and Britain centres on the issuance of licences to fish in territorial waters six to 12 nautical miles off Britain’s shores, as well as in the seas off the coast of Jersey, a crown dependency.