The EU is demanding access to British waters in Brexit talks – but as Boris Johnson holds firm, French fishermen are fearing the worst.
This was evident as some fishermen in France expressed dread at the prospect of losing access to UK fishing grounds, fearing that it could end their businesses. Boulogne-sur-Mer, a city where a key French fishing port is located, is home to many of these fishermen, with one claiming they will have “no Plan-B” should Mr Johnson and Brussels fail to reach a deal. One told the Financial Times in January: “[Brexit] is death. I have no Plan B. I have €1m of debt. What am I supposed to do? Put a bullet in my head?”
Brexit trade talks between the UK and the EU have reached stalemate as Brussels’ chief negotiator Michel Barnier demands that other European nations keep their right to fish in British waters.
Mr Barnier’s red lines – which have been backed by the EU27 – dictate that the UK cannot get a free trade agreement and access to European markets without ensuring EU access to British fishing grounds.
Before the UK left the bloc on January 31, EU member states were allowed to dip into Britain’s wealth of landing under the Common Fisheries Policy, angering many fishermen north of the English Channel.
France is one of many nations dependent on British fishing grounds.
Between 2012-2016 for example, France caught 120,000 tonnes of fish worth £171million, according to Marine Management Organisation figures.
Last month, France President Emmanuel Macron promised he would “fight” for his country’s fishermen during Brexit trade talks.
He said: “I want to tell our fishermen that I will fight for them. If we do not get the same access as today, we will seek compensation.
“I will not let our fishermen pay for a British vote they could do nothing about.”
Brussels’ chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has demanded that the conditions of the Common Fisheries Policy be preserved.
He said: “Let me remind you that most of the British processed fisheries products are traded, are exported, are sent to us, to the European market.
“So fisheries is part of a package as regards our trade relations, which are to be discussed, and that package is one you can’t break up. There will be no ambiguity at all around that.”
Defiance is just as strong in the UK however, as Elspeth Macdonald, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation said that permanent concessions to the EU would be a “betrayal”.
She told the Financial Times: “By the end of this year, we should be going into . . . negotiations as an independent coastal state, negotiating access and fishing opportunities on an annual basis.”
In January, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen that Britain would insist on “maintaining control of UK fishing waters”.
As the UK looks to secure independent control of its waters, the EU risk fury from fishermen south of the English Channel if they fail to reach a resolution.