France slams UK’s ‘unacceptable’ decision to deny French boats fishing licenses

French fishermen gather in a net on their vessel near the port of Saint Helier off the British island of Jersey on May 6, 2021.
French fishermen gather in a net on their vessel near the port of Saint Helier off the British island of Jersey on May 6, 2021. © Sameer Al-Doumy, AFP (file photo)

France will decide within two weeks on possible retaliation measures after Britain and the Channel Island of Jersey refused dozens of French fishing boats a licence to operate in their territorial waters.


Paris accused London of playing politics with post-Brexit fishing rights and urged other European Union nations to take a similarly tough stand against what it called Britain’s disregard towards the new trading relationship.

The flare-up over fisheries comes as Paris fumes over Britain’s involvement in a new Indo-Pacific security pact with the United States and Australia that led to Canberra’s decision to ditch an agreement to buy French submarines.

France’s maritime minister Annick Girardin said French fishermen should not be taken hostage by the British for political ends and said the retaliation could involve energy supplies, educational exchanges, trade flows and rail links.

“On every subject, the British are dragging their feet or failing to live up to their commitments,” Girardin told reporters after meeting fishermen in Paris on Wednesday.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal condemned “totally unacceptable and inadmissible decisions” that “contravene the agreement that was signed in the framework of Brexit”.

Fishing and the control of British waters were a hot topic during Britain’s 2016 referendum to leave the EU. But British fishermen have since accused the government of selling them out by allowing European boats to continue fishing in them.

Britain said it had granted licences to almost 1,700 vessels to fish in the 12-200 nautical mile zone, and a further 105 licences were issued for vessels to fish in the 6-12 nautical mile zone where evidence supported a track record.

Behaving badly

Britain said it was open to further discussion with the boats it had rejected, adding that they had not submitted evidence of their history of operating in the waters which was needed to continue fishing in the 6-12 nautical mile zone.


Jersey, a British Crown Dependent that lies closer to France than Britain, said it was issuing 64 full permits and 31 temporary ones on top of the 47 vessels already licensed earlier this year, but had rejected applications by 75 fishing boats.

But the French fishermen said this was not sufficient.

“We gave everything we could in the way of proof (of past activity in the area). It’s nothing but a question of bad faith,” said Romain Davodet, who fishes for lobster and whelk off the coast of Jersey but only received a temporary licence.

The dispute has simmered for months. Paris threatened to cut off power supplies to Jersey earlier this year and both Britain and France deployed maritime patrol vessels to the waters off Jersey in May after a flotilla of French trawlers sailed in protest to the Channel island.

Patience in Paris has worn thin over what French officials call Britain’s failure to honour its word since Brexit, in particular London’s demand to renegotiate the Northern Ireland protocol agreed after months of tortuous talks aimed at maintaining the integrity of the EU single market.

“We hear (British Prime Minister Boris Johnson) repeat how much he loves France and just how wonderful he thinks we are.  But the fact is, the behaviour of the British is not that of an ally,” said one adviser to President Emmanuel Macron.


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