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Brexit fishing tensions flare after French blockade

The French government called for a quick implementation of a post-Brexit accord on mutual access to fishing waters on Friday, after French fisherman blocked trucks trying to bring in catches from Britain overnight.

Brexit fishing tensions flare after French blockade
French fishermen stand near burning tyres as they gather as part of a protest action against the delay in granting licenses to access British waters at the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer on April 22, 2021. (Photo by DENIS CHARLET / AFP)

“We’re acting within the spirit of European solidarity and cooperation with the UK, but the urgency demands an acceleration of our collective efforts,” Europe Minister Clément Beaune and Maritime Minister Annick Girardin said in a statement.

More than a hundred fisherman launched the blockade late Thursday at Boulogne-sur-Mer, France’s busiest fishing hub, to protest a “sham” deal on access in place since Britain left the European Union on January 1.

Despite a provisional trade accord, they say UK authorities have granted licences to only 22 of the 120 French boats seeking permission to fish between six and 12 nautical miles from the British coast.

“A full granting of access licenses for British waters, and a quick resolution of crucial questions including the use of forward bases, must be resolved as soon as possible,” the French ministers said.

Along with access to UK waters, the accord calls for French boats to be able to unload their catches at British ports so they can then be brought quickly to France by truck.

The European Parliament is to vote Tuesday on ratifying the EU-UK trade and cooperation agreement (TCA) that defines post-Brexit relations with Britain.

READ ALSO: ‘For over 40 years British and French fishermen have been working side by side. Brexit will change all that’

“It’s not enough to have a nice letter – we need action,” said Olivier Leprêtre, head of the regional fishing committee, in response to the French ministers’ statement.

“For now it’s impossible to unload fish at English ports,” he said, saying French boats are instead having to unload catches from British waters in Denmark.

British authorities contested the industry’s claims, saying 87 French boats had received licenses for fishing within six to 12 nautical miles from its coast.

Concerns raised 

“The UK maintains a consistent, evidence-based approach to licensing EU vessels using information supplied by the European Commission,” a spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said in a statement.

“We do not recognise the figures that have been shared by the French fishing industry and consider this reaction to be unjustified,” the spokesman added.

“Our concerns regarding the protest action have been raised directly with the French authorities.”

READ ALSO: France warns UK: ‘Our fishermen are as important as yours’

Leprêtre acknowledged that “very, very few” drivers tried to get past the blockade, just outside a checkpoint where trucks arriving from Britain at nearby Dunkirk or Calais must now undergo hygiene checks.

Most had advance warning and chose to unload their fish deliveries elsewhere, while several British-flagged Dutch ships also avoided the Boulogne fish market and instead headed to Belgium.

The protest was to end Thursday morning with a sale of fish at cut-rate prices, also aimed at denouncing EU policies on quota allotments.

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TRAVEL NEWS

‘We will be ready’ vows France, amid fears of UK border chaos

Transport bosses have raised fears of long queues in British ports when the EU's new EES system comes into effect next year, but French border officials insist they will be ready to implement the new extra checks.

'We will be ready' vows France, amid fears of UK border chaos

The EU’s new EES system comes into effect in 2023 and many people – including the boss of the Port of Dover and the former UK ambassador to France – have raised concerns that the extra checks will lead to travel chaos on the UK-France border, and see a repeat of the long queues experienced last summer.

Port of Dover CEO Doug Bannister told The Local that he feared “tailbacks out of the port and throughout Kent” because the new system could take up to 10 minutes to process a car with four passengers, as opposed to 90 seconds currently.

EXPLAINED What the EES system means for travel to France in 2023

But French border control have insisted that they will be ready, replying to questions from the European Commission with “Oui, La France sera prête” (yes, France will be ready).

French officials said they had already undertaken extension preparation and would begin test runs of the new system in French border posts at the end of this year.

document shared recently by the secretariat of the EU Council (the EU institution representing member states) and published by Statewatch, a non-profit organisation that monitors civil liberties, shows how countries are preparing. 

“France has prepared very actively and will be on schedule for an EES implementation in compliance with the EU regulation,” French authorities say.

“The French authorities have carried out numerous studies and analyses, in cooperation with infrastructure managers, to map passenger flows at each border crossing post… and evaluate the EES impact on waiting times,” the document says. 

However, despite the preparation, the French admit that long waits at the border remain a worry, adding: “the prospect of the impact of EES on waiting times at the borders worries infrastructure managers. The fact remains that fluidity remains a concern, and that exchanges are continuing with each border post manager to make progress on this point.”

The EES system is due to come into effect in May 2023 and will be applied at all EU external borders – find full details on how it works HERE.

However there has been particular concern about the France-UK border due to three things; the high volume of traffic (in total over 60 million passengers cross the border each year); the fact that many travel by car on ferries and the Eurotunnel (while the EES system seems more designed with foot passengers in mind); and the Le Touquet agreement which means that French border control agents work in the British ports of Dover and Folkestone and at London St Pancras station.

EES is essentially a more thorough passport checking process with passengers required to provide biometric information including fingerprints and facial scans – border checks will therefore take longer per passenger, and this could have a big effect at busy crossing points like Dover.

The UK’s former ambassador to France, Lord Ricketts, told The Local: “I think the EES, in particular, will be massively disruptive at the Channel ports.”

The EU consultation documents also revealed more details of how EES will work on a practical level for car passengers – those travelling by ferry or Eurotunnel to France – with border agents set to use computer tablets to gather biometric information like fingerprints so that passengers don’t have to get out of their cars.

READ ALSO France to use iPads to check biometric data of passengers from UK

Doug Bannister added that Dover agents were “awaiting an invitation” to France to see how the new systems will work. 

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