French fishermen threaten Channel blockade after France fails to secure backing from EU countries

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Fishermen gut freshly caught fish aboard fishing boat 'About Time' while trawling in the English Channel from the Port of Newhaven, East Sussex, U.K - Jason Alden /Bloomberg
Fishermen gut freshly caught fish aboard fishing boat 'About Time' while trawling in the English Channel from the Port of Newhaven, East Sussex, U.K - Jason Alden /Bloomberg

France’s failure to secure the backing of European governments in its battle against Britain over fishing licences has prompted fresh threats of a Channel trade blockade by angry French trawlermen.

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, was diplomatically humiliated last week when EU nations poured cold water over his attempts to use the post-Brexit trade deal to slap the UK with economic sanctions.

He is furious that a number of small French fishing vessels have been refused access to Britain’s coastal waters under the terms of the agreement, but Brussels insiders insisted Mr Macron was simply using the row for political gain ahead of next April’s presidential elections.

France’s president believes by publicly fighting for the fishing industry he could steal votes from Marine Le Pen, a far-Right leader, who is hugely popular in northern coastal towns.

But French fishermen have once again threatened to take matters into their own hands and blockade the English Channel, which could have a detrimental impact on trade, after Mr Macron failed to secure more licences for them to operate in British waters.

Pierre-Yves Dachicourt, a French fisherman from the northern Channel town of Boulogne - Christophe Ena/AP
Pierre-Yves Dachicourt, a French fisherman from the northern Channel town of Boulogne - Christophe Ena/AP

"We were promised to be able to go fishing in English waters, but since January 1, it's forbidden to us. We're losing 50 per cent of our income," said Pierre-Yves Dachicourt, a French fisherman from the northern Channel town of Boulogne.

"We're going to consider direct action, because this has to end," he added "We can't live like that."

The threats came after Paris failed to secure the backing of EU nations to accuse the UK of “a clear failure to comply with the provisions” of the post-Brexit fisheries pact.

Annick Girardin, France’s maritime minister, had circulated an aggressive declaration, seen by the Sunday Telegraph, to her European counterparts.

In an email message, Francois Lambert, the French minister’s top adviser, urged colleagues to sign up to the “joint declaration” to “ensure not only respect for French fishermen” but also the EU-UK Brexit trade deal.

Twelve EU nations have now signed a "watered down" version of the declaration, which only pushed for "further technical work in accordance with the spirit and the letter of the agreement".

For coastal communities around the UK, the fishing industry is their economic lifeblood - Dan Kitwood /Getty Images Europe
For coastal communities around the UK, the fishing industry is their economic lifeblood - Dan Kitwood /Getty Images Europe

France was told it had no chance of securing signatories unless it dropped a threat to cut energy supplies to the UK and Jersey from the statement.

European governments have been hesitant to join the row, which they see as an entirely French issue, and want to leave the European Commission to carry out a proper investigation into why the French vessels have not been issued licences by British authorities.

A European diplomat said: "French has not been speaking for the EU, instead Macron has been trying to harness the EU machine for its own political gain."

Following discussions on Friday between Lord Frost, the Cabinet Office minister, and, Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission vice president, in Brussels, the two men are understood to have agreed to begin technical talks this week over the proposals put forward by both sides.

UK Government sources, however, suggested that EU proposals published last week appeared "thin" following scrutiny in recent days.

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