By Richard Lough
PARIS (Reuters) – French fishermen have said they could block the rail link to the northern port of Calais and the Channel Tunnel, two major transit points for trade between Britain and mainland Europe, if London is not granting more fishing licenses in the next 17 days.
The warning from trawler captains in Boulogne-sur-Mer comes as Britain reeling from a shortage of truck drivers that has wreaked havoc on its supply chains for everything from fuel and pork with poultry and medicine less than three months before Christmas.
Amid growing exasperation in France over what he says is Britain’s refusal to honor its post-Brexit trade deal with the EU, Olivier Lepretre, owner of a Boulogne-based trawler and president of the Hauts-de-France regional fishing committee, declared port blockages. were considered by fishermen.
“Especially those who handle the import and export of goods,” he told Reuters.
Retaliation had been planned earlier, but Maritime Minister Annick Girardin, who accuses Britain of taking French fishermen hostage for domestic gain, has demanded that they stop while Paris and the Union European pressure on London, Lepretre said.
The dispute involves the issuance of fishing licenses in British territorial waters 6-12 miles off its coast, as well as in the seas off Jersey, a Crown dependency in the English Channel.
Paris is furious at London’s refusal to grant what it considers to be all of the licenses owed to French fishing vessels.
The EU Executive Commission said talks are underway with Britain to find a solution to the escalating dispute.
Lepretre said he expected there would be coordinated acts of retaliation along France’s northern coast, including by Norman fishermen who operate off Jersey, if London does not budge.
“It’s not something you can organize overnight,” he said.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex has said Paris is ready to review its bilateral cooperation with Britain if no solution to this dispute is found.
(Reporting by Richard Lough; Editing by Gareth Jones)