French fishermen threaten to block exports to UK in run-up to Christmas

French fishing trawler

French fishermen have threatened to blockade the port of Calais and cut off Christmas supplies in a post-Brexit fishing row.

They claim they have been “deceived” by the British government over fishing licence applications and have called on the European Commission to take “retaliatory measures”.

The president of the fishing committee for the northern Hauts-de-France region, Olivier Lepretre, said blocking the port in Calais and exports into the United Kingdom is “an option”.

“As far as French fishermen in northern France are concerned, in the absence of any results, the blocking of the port of Calais and exports to the United Kingdom for the period leading up to Christmas is an option,” he said.

Mr Lepretre met with France’s Minister of the Sea, Annick Girardin, last week to discuss fishing licences granted to French fishermen by the UK government.

Overall, in Hauts-de-France, 31 out of a possible 70 eligible vessels have been granted permission to operate in British waters, the committee said, describing it as “an unacceptable decision condemned by the entire profession”.

“UK authorities are refusing to grant full licences due to evidence deemed insufficient,” it said.

“The work has been however meticulously done by the French side and fishermen believe they have been deceived by the British government.”

France has once again threatened to cut off energy supplies to the UK, if the terms of the Brexit deal aren’t met.

Clement Beaune, the country’s Europe minister, said the agreement had to be “implemented fully” and – should it not be – then “we will take European or national measures to exert pressure on the UK”.

Asked what actions could be taken, Mr Beaune pointed to both UK exports to France and European energy exports to the UK.

“The UK depends on our energy exports, they think they can live alone while also beating up on Europe and, given that it doesn’t work, they engage in aggressive one-upmanship,” he added.

His comments came after Paris became angered by a series of application rejections to fish in British waters.

The government in London announced last month it had approved just 12 of the 47 applications it received from French small boats.

That fury was further stoked in a later announcement by the Jersey government that of 170 licence applications it had received from French boats, 75 had been rejected.

Earlier this year, the French government made similar threats of “retaliatory measures” as part of a fishing dispute with Jersey.

It included a threat that it could cut off electricity to the British Crown Dependency, which receives 95% of its electricity from France through three undersea cables.

But on Monday, Brexit Minister Lord David Frost hit back at the French government’s energy warning, arguing it was “unreasonable” to suggest the UK was acting in bad faith when it came to allocating post-Brexit fishing licences to French boats.

He said London had been “extremely generous” to European Union requests and he questioned why the EU “resorts to threats quite quickly”.

“For all the frustrations of the last 18 months, and particularly since January, I don’t think we as a country have resorted to those sort of threats,” he told a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.

“We have granted 98% of the licence applications from EU boats to fish in our waters according to the different criteria in the Trade and Co-operation Agreement, so we do not accept that we are not abiding by that agreement.

“We have been extremely generous and the French, focusing in on a small category of boats and claiming we have behaved unreasonably, I think is not really a fair reflection of the efforts we have made.”