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French fishers to block Channel tunnel in Brexit licences row | Brexit

French fishers are threatening to block access to the Channel tunnel and the ferry port in Calais on Friday as part of an ongoing dispute over access to the waters between France and the UK in the wake of Brexit.

They have branded the UK’s approach as “contemptuous” and “humiliating” and say they have no other option but to block access to the port and tunnel along with two other ports, Saint-Malo and Ouistreham.

The blockade could result in gridlock stretching back miles on both sides of the Channel on Friday, disrupting trade flows as well as passenger travel. However, sources at the port downplayed the potential impact, saying lorry volumes were always lower on Fridays and the blockade looked as if it would be “short-lived”.

“The fishermen are demanding an immediate resolution to the dispute with the UK over the interpretation of the Brexit agreement,” Gérard Romiti, the president of the national maritime fisheries committee, told the French newspaper Le Figaro on Thursday.

“This is our demonstration of the quality and ability of professional fishermen to mobilise in response to the UK’s provocative, contemptuous and humiliating attitude towards them,” he said.

According to reports the French fishers plan to take action in Saint-Malo in the morning, Calais at midday and Ouistreham in the afternoon.

The row over access exploded last month over licences for fishing around Jersey in the Channel Islands, with French fishers accusing the UK of refusing to grant them sufficient licences.

“We don’t want handouts, we just want our licenses back. The UK must abide by the post-Brexit deal. Too many fishermen are still in the dark,” said Romiti.

“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 added, refusing to rule out further actions in the future.

A No 10 spokesperson said Downing Street was “disappointed by threats of protest activity”. He added: “It will be a matter for the French to ensure that there are no illegal actions and that trade is not affected. We continue to monitor the situation closely.”

The row over fishing has developed into a dispute at the highest political level and has become entangled in the wider deterioration of relations between the UK and the EU.

The European Commission has asked for a resolution by 10 December, but there is no sign of a breakthrough despite a recent phone call between Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron and a face-to-face meeting between David Frost, the Brexit minister, and France’s European affairs minister, Clément Beaune.

The fishers can expect maximum media coverage given the presence of international press in Calais in relation to the drowning of 27 people in the Channel this week as they tried to make their way to Britain in a small boat.

A blockade around the port and tunnel would cause disruption to the British fishing industry. Since Brexit, all fish arriving by boat or tunnel must be processed in France under sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) rules. The SPS checks are conducted 36km (23 miles) down the coast at Boulogne-sur-Mer where all fish processing is also carried out.

French fishers have previously taken matters into their own hands. In April they blocked trucks carrying fish from British waters to processing centres in France. In May the Royal Navy dispatched two patrol boats when French boats blockaded St Helier harbour in Jersey.

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