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French fishermen block British boats to protest UK-granted rights

French fishermen block the Normandy Trader boat at the entrance of the port of St. Malo, in France, on November 26, 2021. (Photo by Reuters)

French fishermen have disrupted cross-Channel traffic in protest at the post-Brexit fishing rights granted by Britain, temporarily preventing two ferries carrying trucks and passengers from getting access to the northern port of Calais.

In a retaliatory measure against the UK's failure to grant more licenses to French fishermen, several trawlers maneuvered for 90 minutes on Friday to force DFDS and P&O ferries to slow down and hold outside the port.

"We want our licenses back," read a banner brandished on one of the protesting boats, the Marmouset II.

Under the Brexit trade deal agreed between the UK and the EU late last year, European vessels can continue fishing in the UK waters if they apply for new licenses. However, Paris says dozens of French applications to fish in the UK's rich waters have been rejected. The UK, on the other hand, contests that some of the French boats do not meet the requirements or do not provide the necessary documents required for a valid license.

The vice president of the national committee for fishery and aquaculture (CNPMEM), Olivier Lepretre, said the protest had been intended to "put pressure on the British government."

The protest then shifted to the land disruption in the Channel Tunnel, where French fishermen stopped goods being transported to and from Britain via its railroad link.

The route between the ports of Dover and Calais in the English Channel has been one of the UK's main arteries for European trade since the Middle Ages.

Gerard Romiti, Chairman of CNPMEM, said, "This is to demonstrate how professional fishermen come together in response to the UK's provocative, contemptuous and humiliating attitude towards them."

Earlier in the day, similar action took place at the port of St. Malo to the west, where the French boats lined the entrance to the port to stop the British Normandy Trader getting into the Brittany port from Jersey.

"We're hostage to politics," said Pascal Lecler, one of the fishermen in St. Malo. "It doesn't make us happy to be here, but it can't go on."

The UK relies heavily on French ports, especially for fresh food imports, in which, long-term blockades could cause significant costs. The disruptions risk intensifying the already acute dispute between the two countries over a mutual licensing system for fishing vessels.

The development comes in the wake of a war of words between the two sides over a migration crisis in the English Channel, where 27 refugees drowned while trying to cross the Channel in an inflatable dinghy to reach Britain.

Analysts say relations between Britain and France are at their lowest point during the past decades due to tensions over a couple of issues such as Brexit, migration, and a submarine contract with Australia.

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