Fishermen in northern France blocked the port of Calais earlier today, thereby preventing two ferries arriving from England to enter the harbour.
Multiple trawlers forced the DFDS and P&O ferries to slow down and wait outside the port, the biggest entry point to the continent for British goods.
The two vessels, carrying dozens of trucks and hundreds of passengers, were unable to enter the harbour as the fishermen protest against the limited amount of fishing licenses the UK has issued to French companies.
The protest then shifted to the Channel Tunnel where the fishermen held up goods moving to and from Britain through the Channel Tunnel rail link.
The blockage lasted around an hour and a half and marked a further escalation in the ongoing post-Brexit spat between the UK and France over fishing rights.
Dover – Calais is the shortest sea route between Britain and the European Union – just 23 miles – and has been one of Britain’s main arteries for European trade for centuries. Before Brexit and the pandemic, 1.8 million trucks per year were routed through Calais, Reuters reported today.
Earlier in the day, fishermen blocked a small British cargo, the Normandy Trader, from docking in the Brittany port of Saint-Malo. France says Jersey, a British Crown Dependency, has also failed to issue licences due to its fishermen under a post-Brexit deal.
The one-hour Saint-Malo protest and the larger action further east along France’s coast risk reigniting a dispute between the two countries over a mutual licensing system for fishing vessels.
Friday’s blockades are “a warning shot”, Olivier Lepretre, president of the regional fishing committee, told reporters in Calais.
“The British have access to the European market, while we do not have access to British waters. This is not normal, the British government must respect the agreement.”
“This is a symbolic action but if it continues we will show more teeth,” Lepretre added, in quotes given to French media.
The fishermen are protesting to “respond to the derisive and humiliating attitude of the English,” said Gerard Romiti, president of the French fishing committee.
“We don’t want handouts, we just want our licences back. The UK must abide by the post-Brexit deal. Too many fishermen are still on the sidelines,” he added.
A spokesman for UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK was “disappointed by threats of protest activity”.
Before Brexit, French fishermen could fish deep inside British waters. Now they need to be granted a special licence from British authorities to fish in certain areas.
Most French boats have received the special licences. Now the dispute boils down to just a few dozen French licences that have not been granted by the UK.