French fishermen threaten to stop British goods at the border if Macron fails to strike a deal
- President Emmanuel Macron and government have been on a charm offensive
- They publicly adopted Theresa May’s ‘No Deal is better than a bad one’ mantra
- But he was forced into an embarrassing climbdown after an earlier EU summit
- He admitted ‘hard Brexit’ would cut off French trawlers from British waters
- Seafood industry expert said two sides must broker an acceptable compromise
French fishermen have heaped pressure on both sides to get a Brexit deal done by warning of possible blockades of British products at the port of Calais.
Britain wants to negotiate fishing stocks every year but avoid tariffs and quotas on its goods.
President Emmanuel Macron and his government have been on a charm offensive across northern French coastal towns, publicly adopting Theresa May’s ‘No Deal is better than a bad one’ mantra.
But he was forced into an embarrassing climbdown after an EU summit more than two weeks ago by admitting a ‘hard Brexit’ would completely cut off French trawlers from British waters.
Christophe Hagnere, a regional organiser for the seafood industry in the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer for the Confederation Generale du Travail (CGT) union, said the two sides must broker an acceptable compromise.
President Emmanuel Macron (pictured this week) and his government have been on a charm offensive across northern French coastal towns, publicly adopting Theresa May’s ‘No Deal is better than a bad one’ mantra
‘If we see that companies are at risk of having to shut their doors, then there will be demonstrations. There will be a blockade of British products,’ he said.
The CGT has 600,000 members nationwide and is historically linked to France’s Communist Party.
Fishermen in Boulogne catch as many as 80 per cent of their fish in British waters. No Deal would decimate this small city of just 42,000.
It is France’s main fishing hub, just 40 minutes by boat from the maritime border with Britain. More than 30,000 tons are landed there each year. It is also home to Europe’s biggest fish processing industry, dealing with 370,000 tons of seafood products annually. The area is otherwise crippled by an unemployment rate of 27 per cent.
Jean-Michel Fournier, a 50-year-old skipper who spends two days at sea every four to five days with his six employees, said: ‘There is bound to be repercussions if we are not listened to.
Britain wants to negotiate fishing stocks every year but avoid tariffs and quotas on its goods. Pictured: A fishing vessel is seen in the English Channel
‘The fishermen could take it upon themselves to block the Channel Tunnel or British lorries might be stopped from delivering their products to Europe.
‘I hope it doesn’t come to that. We are not at that point yet.’
Mr Fournier says No Deal would wipe out the French industry, indicating how little leverage Mr Macron has over the whole Brexit process. His approval ratings fell below 40 per cent last month amid criticism of his handling of the pandemic and a wave of Islamist terror attacks.
Fishing is also political dynamite in France. Leader of the far-Right National Front party Marine Le Pen won nearly 45 per cent of ballots cast in Boulogne in the 2017 presidential election.
She is widely tipped to be Mr Macron’s second-round challenger in the 2022 vote.
Another Boulogne fisherman Loic Magnolle, 45, said: ‘We are so fed up that we no longer believe in anything we are told.
‘For pity’s sake, we just want Boris Johnson to let us get on with our jobs in the waters that we have been fishing in for the past five decades.
‘We don’t want to lose access to those waters. Without it, we will simply no longer exist.’
The British government’s fisheries bill, which is making its way through Parliament, ends automatic rights of access for EU trawlers. Foreign vessels will have to be licensed if they fish in British waters.
Former skipper Gerard Wacogne, 72, said: ‘If I put myself in the shoes of a British fisherman, I understand them… But they cannot have access to the European market and put everyone here out of work at the same time. You cannot have your cake and eat it.’
Fishermen in Normandy, who catch close to half of their fish in British waters, also say they will act against UK exporters if both sides fail to strike an agreement.
Sophie Leroy, who owns four trawlers with her husband in the port of Cherbourg, told the Quest France newspaper: ‘If there is No Deal, we will not let a single British fish land in our French ports.
‘We are not going to sacrifice our businesses and then let the Brits sell their products here.’
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