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France warns of ‘reprisals’ as post-Brexit fishing row deepens

The French government warned on Tuesday that it was weighing reprisals after Britain set new rules governing access for French fishing boats near the Channel Islands, the latest skirmish in a deepening post-Brexit dispute.

France warns of 'reprisals' as post-Brexit fishing row deepens
Fishing boats moored at the port of Le Guilvinec, western France. Photo: Fred TANNEAU / AFP

“We are ready to use these retaliation measures,” Maritime Minister Annick Girardin told lawmakers in parliament

She mentioned in particular consequences involving the underwater cables that supply electricity from France to Jersey, the largest Channel island.

“I am sorry it has come to this,” Girardin said, but “we will do so if we have to.”

Paris and London have increasingly clashed over fishing in recent weeks, as French fishermen say they are being prevented from operating in British waters because of difficulties in obtaining licences.

In the latest move, Britain on Friday authorised 41 ships equipped with Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) technology — which allows ships to be located — to fish in waters off Jersey, a self-governing British Crown Dependency.

But this list was accompanied by new demands “which were not arranged or discussed (with France), and which we were not notified about”, the French fisheries ministry said.

The measures effectively create new zoning rules for the waters near Jersey — “where the ships can go and cannot go”, as well as the number of days the fishermen can spend at sea and using what machinery, the ministry added.

“This is absolutely unacceptable,” Girardin said. “If we accept this for Jersey, it would imperil our access everywhere.”

France and Britain have increasingly clashed over fishing in recent weeks, with French fishermen saying they are being prevented from operating in British waters because of difficulties in obtaining licences.

The French fisheries ministry said Britain had introduced “new technical measures” relating to licences for fishing off the Channel Islands which had not been properly declared to the European Union under the terms of the Brexit deal.

“We consider that if the new demands for sea zoning or fishing equipment are integrated into the licences – when the European Commission has not been notified – they are null and void,” the ministry told AFP.

The ministry said it was adhering “strictly to the deal” agreed on fishing under the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union on January 1st.

“If the United Kingdom wants to introduce new measures, it must notify the European Commission which in turn notifies us – that allows for us to engage in a dialogue,” the ministry said.

“These new technical measures are not applicable to our fishermen as things stand.”

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

Fishing proved one of the most fraught issues in the frantic negotiations leading up to Britain’s departure from the EU, with London tightly guarding control over its waters as a symbol of its sovereignty.

Reprisal measures?

France said it had voiced its displeasure at the surprise measures with the European Commission.

Commission spokeswoman Vivian Loonela said the EU was engaged in “intense joint work” with the British government to resolve the issue.

“Any condition should be notified in a timely way to allow the other party sufficient time to comment or adapt,” she said of the new British requirements.

“In addition, any such conditions cannot be discriminatory towards our fishermen.”

Dimitri Rogoff, president of the regional fishing committee of Normandy in northern France, said that if French fishermen continued to be blocked from the waters off Jersey, there should be reprisal measures.

“Fishermen from Jersey should not be able to land at Granville,” he said, referring to the French port nearest the island.

French fishermen last month began a protest movement, blockading trucks bringing fish from Britain to France, over complaints that few of their vessels have obtained licences to operate in British waters.

Member comments

  1. The Fisheries Framework Agreement can be ‘terminated at any point with 9 months notice’. I think if France cut Jersey’s electric that would certainly be the end of the Agreement and EU access to UK waters at all.

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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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