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French fishing boats plan to block English Channel

By EARLE GALE in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-10-18 09:55

French fishing boats are reportedly ready to block one of the world's busiest waterways, the English Channel between France and the United Kingdom, in an ongoing row about fish quotas.

The escalation followed France's failure last week to secure the backing of the European Union in its dispute with London.

Last week, President Emmanuel Macron issued a call to arms through a declaration written by Annick Girardin, France's maritime minister. The Sunday Telegraph described the message as "aggressive" and reported that it largely fell on deaf ears at the EU.

It said most nations refused to get involved, and instead backed a "watered-down" declaration that calls on the two sides to keep seeking solutions.

Pierre-Yves Dachicourt, a fisherman from Boulogne, told the Daily Mail newspaper his colleagues are now focusing on a possible blockade of the English Channel.

"We were promised to be able to go fishing in English waters, but since Jan 1, it's forbidden to us," he told the paper. "We're losing 50 percent of our income. We're going to consider direct action, because this has to end. We can't live like that."

The fishermen and the French government are furious the UK has been denying licenses on apparent technicalities. The French say London committed to providing licenses in the Brexit divorce agreement that accompanied the UK's exit from the bloc.

But the UK says it is only obligated to offer licenses to French boats that can prove they fished in English waters in the years before the UK's 2016 referendum on EU membership.

Macron had wanted the EU to place economic sanctions on the UK to bring about a change of heart.

The Guardian newspaper said Macron is under pressure to take a tough line in the dispute because he wants to look strong in the run-up to France's presidential election in April 2022.

The Daily Telegraph said he wants to take votes from right-wing presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, who is popular in northern coastal towns.

At least two senior members of Macron's government have joined him in his tough line, and suggested France could consider limiting or stopping the fl ow of electricity to the UK, and especially to the island of Jersey, which is at the heart of fishing grounds at the center of the dispute.

Prime Minister Jean Castex said in the French Parliament that strong action is justified because the UK reneged on promises.

"We see in the clearest way possible that Great Britain does not respect its own signature," he said.

The Financial Times said France is understood to be preparing other "retaliatory" measures aimed at encouraging the UK to change its tone in the fishing quotas dispute.

The row comes after relations between the UK and France were already strained by the signing of the AUKUS pact, which involves the UK, the United States, and Australia, and which led to the abandonment of a deal for France to build nuclear submarines for Australia.

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