France details ‘retaliation’ against UK in post-Brexit fishing dispute

France has laid out detailed measures of 'retaliation' against Britain from November 2nd in the deepening row over granting of post-Brexit fishing licences to French fishermen.

French customs officers checking arrivals at the border.
French customs officers checking arrivals at the border. Photo: Pascal Pochard Casablanca/AFP

The measures would include “systematic customs and sanitary checks on products brought to France and a ban on landing seafood,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal told reporters.

Speaking after the regular Wednesday meeting of the Council of Ministers, Attal told reporters that several meetings had been held within the government to plan a list of measures in response to the post-Brexit fishing dispute.

The measures were later published by Europe Minister Clément Beaune, who tweeted: “French and EU fishermen must not be the adjustment variable of Brexit.

“We are announcing retaliatory measures to protect our fishermen, starting on November 2nd. The dialogue remains open but we will always defend our interests.”

The measures that France intends to take from November 2nd are;

  • A ban on the landing of British fishing vessels in designated ports
  • Reinforcement of border customs and health checks 
  • Systematic checks of British fishing boats
  • Reinforcement of checks on all lorries travelling to and from the UK 

Beaune added that a second set of measures are “being prepared” and do not exclude reducing energy supplies to the UK.

Speaking to CNews on Thursday morning, Beaune said there would be strict and systematic checks on paperwork of British boats with “no tolerance, no exceptions” for those who did not have the correct documents, adding that the same regime would be imposed on lorries going to or from the UK.

He said: “We have been extremely patient, our fishermen have been responsible. That is over, from November 2nd we will begin to take retaliatory measures.”

EXPLAINED Why are France and the UK fighting about fish?

Also on Thursday, extra checks on British boats fishing in French waters were carried out, with one trawler detained and taken to Le Havre, accused of fishing for scallops without a licence.

Andrew Brown, director of sustainability and public affairs at Macduff Shellfish based at Mintlaw in Aberdeenshire in northeastern Scotland, confirmed to AFP that its trawler was detained while fishing for scallops.

“It does seem to be a misunderstanding. We believe we have been fishing legally in French waters,” Brown said by telephone.

Access to the waters is “a little bit complicated”, but they opened for fishing earlier this month, he said.

“I suspect it is politically motivated”, he added, since “we’ve not had this issue” previously.

The latest spat between the neighbours has been caused by licensing procedures for EU fishing boats wanting to operate in British waters after Brexit.

France has been incensed by the rejection of dozens of French boats by Britain, as well as by the self-governing Channels islands of Jersey and Guernsey, which depend on London for defence and foreign affairs.

French customs checks have the potential to seriously slow down trade to and from the UK.

British fishermen are also highly dependent on French ports where much of their catch is landed and processed.

Under the post-Brexit deal on fishing, EU fishermen wishing to access British seas had to apply for new licences which would be granted providing they could prove that they had worked in British waters in previous years.

Britain has granted nearly 1,700 licences to EU boats to fish in waters classed as being part of its exclusive economic zone, meaning those 12-200 nautical miles from the coast.

The tension is over licences to operate in Britain’s fish-rich territorial waters, which lie 6-12 nautical miles from the coast, as well as the waters close to Jersey.

London has issued 100 licences to French boats for its territorial waters, while 75 have been rejected, according to figures from the beginning of October.

For Jersey, 111 permanent licences and 31 provisional licences have been issued, while 75 boats have been rejected.

Member comments

  1. Fascinating. France is taking unilateral action in ‘enforcement’ of an EU/UK Agreement. If the EU endorses that action then it is in breach of the Agreement and UK is entitled to institute retaliatory tariffs. French wine could be just about to get very expensive.

      1. Fortunately, no need as the Trade and Co-operation Agreement with the EU provides for disputes to be settled by arbitration.

          1. It’s always possible for either party to give 9 months notice to dissolve the Agreement. That would, of course, mean no licences at all.

  2. After Beaune’s previous threats this weak measure shows the true nature of the issue. The French signed up to an fishing agreement that no longer suits them. The french gov know fishermen in small boats do not have trackers (or turn them off), why on earth did they sign up to an agreement that requires the fisherman to show proof?

  3. When I saw the agreement that was signed, it was obvious there was going to be a trade war and have said so in previous comments.
    However when you start doing things like stopping food and electricity – these are not sanctions – these are acts of war.
    The French Government have done nothing to reduce the size of the French fishing fleet. knowing fine well that the new quotas can not sustain the existing fleet.
    Inaction at the highest level leads to reaction by the ordinary French citizen.
    French Europe Minister Clement Beaune should be putting his own house in order before trying to sort out someone else’s

    1. I should also add that if French Europe Minister Clement Beaune spent more time helping French fisherman with the paperwork to substantiate their claim and checking the validity of the claim, then perhaps that is a more sensible way of carrying this forward

    2. However well or badly drafted, the trade agreement is a UK/EU agreement and the French have no entitlement to stick their oar in. If they want the kind of sovereignty they seem to think they still have then they will have to leave the EU and become a country again.

  4. UK is rejecting fishing licenses (from people who fished in the area their entire lives) based on extremely precise and essentially bad faith scrutiny of their license applications – is it a surprise that the French are mad?

    And their response is pretty ingenious – they know that a huge proportion of British exporters still aren’t ready for Brexit and don’t declare things properly, and all it takes to retaliate is to fully enforce the same agreement that the British have signed up for. Tit for tat.

    1. According to Jersey fishermen( as reported in The Jersey Post ), licenses have already been issued to twice as many French boats as historically fished in their waters and they’re not happy.

      1. The Fishermen on both sides of the channel had sorted the fishing out between themselves for many years without governmental intervention, then the regulation that now has surfaced is hitting at the wrong fishermen on both sides. There are other countries fishing still and they are not seen or needing licences fishing the grounds between UK and EU without anyone stopping these massive trawlers decimating the fishing grounds. whilst we were in the EU these fishing grounds were protected Now they are not as everyone is focused on the battle between EU (France) and UK.

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Reader question: Why does secular France have Catholic holidays?

You might not have thought about it too much as you enjoyed an extra day off work, but it is perhaps unexpected that France - proudly secular since 1905 - has so many public holidays based around Catholic festivals.

Reader question: Why does secular France have Catholic holidays?

Reader question: Why does France have Catholic holidays like Ascension, Assumption and Toussaints? I thought it was supposed to be a secular republic?

The French Republic is very proud of its secular principles but yet as some readers observed, many public holidays are linked to Catholic celebrations, a reminder of its religious history.

Roughly half of the public holidays in France represent Catholic events: Easter, Ascension (May 26th), Assumption (August 15th), Pentecost (for some people), All Saints’ day (November 1st) and of course Christmas.

If you live in Alsace-Moselle (formerly Alsace-Lorraine) you get two extra holidays, both religious ones – Good Friday (the Friday before Easter) and St Stephen’s Day (December 26th) – more on why that is later.

France’s secular stance takes its roots in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789 but was formally codified into law in 1905. 

France does not recognise, pay or subsidise any religion. So French local and national governments are not allowed to finance churches, mosques, synagogues or temples, and religious symbolism is not allowed in State buildings or for representatives of the State.

It is these rules that mean that, for example, French primary schools don’t perform nativity plays at Christmas and French female police officers are not permitted to wear the Muslim headscarf while on duty.

EXPLAINED What does France’s secularism really mean?

The flip side of this is that freedom of worship is also protected in the 1905 law, and everyone is allowed to practice whatever religion they choose in their private life.

The only exception to the secular rules are the three departments of Alsace-Moselle. When the 1905 law was passed the region was part of Germany and only became French again at the end of World War I. As part of the compromise agreed, today bishops, priests, rabbis and pastors have the status of civil servants and the state pays for the maintenance of religious buildings. Religious education in public schools is also preserved.

So all that seems to pretty strongly suggest that Catholic festivals should play no part in France’s holiday calendar and only the secular events – such as the Fête nationale on July 14th or VE Day on May 8th – should remain.

However, by the time secularism was formally codified into law in 1905 there was already a fairly fixed calendar of holidays and festivals – although this had already been slimmed down under the Napoleonic government in 1802 – and suddenly axing popular festivals was likely to go down pretty badly with the population at large.

Essentially then, this was a pragmatic compromise between tradition and secularism and over the years politicians have been understandably reluctant to tell the French they must lose their holidays.

But it’s noticeable that all the religious festivals in the calendar are Christian ones, and while this may reflect France’s history it’s not so representative of the current demographics, where an estimated 10 percent of the population either practice the Muslim faith or have a Muslim family background.

So could we see a scenario when we knock Ascension on the head but make Eid a public holiday?

It’s theoretically possible – in 2015 the French parliament voted through an amendment that would allow the départments of France’s Overseas Territories (Martinique, Gaudeloupe, Mayotte, Réunion and French Guiana) to switch a Catholic bank holiday for another religious celebration to suit different faiths in the local population.

However none of the overseas départements has yet made that move. 

A fresh amendment would be required to make the same move in mainland France, and there appears to be little political appetite for that at present.

What are France’s public holidays? 

  • January 1st: New Year’s Day
  • Good Friday (the Friday before Easter Monday, only a holiday in Alsace-Lorraine)
  • Easter Monday (movable date)
  • May 1st: May Day
  • May 8th: VE Day
  • May 26th: Ascension Day
  • Pentecost (movable date and no longer an official holiday)
  • July 14th – Bastille Day
  • August 15th – Assumption
  • November 1st – All Saints
  • November 11th – Armistice Day
  • December 25th – Christmas
  • December 26th – St Stephen’s Day (only a holiday in Alsace-Lorraine)