Fishing: Ben Habib says relationship with France is ‘unbalanced’
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France has reacted with fury to Britain’s refusal to grant all the licences sought by French boats to access British waters and has accused the UK Government of failing to respect the Brexit deal. But ex-Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib insisted France of overreacting in the row over fishing licences.
Mr Habib told Express.co.uk: “There have been 1,700 licenses issued to European Union member states to fish in our territorial waters.
“The dispute is over 35 licenses where some French boats can’t evidence that they used to fish in the waters prior to Brexit.
“The French are absolutely making a mountain out of a molehill.
“They’re going to town over these 35 licenses.
“They make out as if the British have reneged entirely on the fishing agreement.
“It’s utter rubbish. They’ve got really very significant unfettered access to our water.”
The UK Government announced last month that it had approved 12 of the 47 applications it had received from French small boats.
Those denied licences were unable to prove a track record of fishing activity in the six-to-12 nautical mile zone in the years before Brexit, according to a UK Government spokesman.
Paris was further riled by a later announcement from the Jersey Government that it had rejected 75 of the 170 licence applications it had received from French boats.
The cross-Channel tensions over fishing have been long-running.
Navy ships were scrambled to Jersey in May amid concerns of a blockade of the island.
Earlier this week, French fishing industry representatives threatened to block the port of Calais and stop cross-Channel exports to the UK in the run-up to Christmas.
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Olivier Lepretre, president of the powerful fishing committee for the northern Hauts-de-France region, said: “As far as French fishermen in northern France are concerned, in the absence of any results, the blocking of the port of Calais and exports to the United Kingdom for the period leading up to Christmas is an option.”
And earlier this month, France’s Europe minister Clement Beaune threatened to cut the UK off from energy supplies in response to the fishing wrangle.
But Brexit minister Lord Frost hit back and insisted the UK had been “extremely generous”.
He told a Conservative Party conference fringe event: “I do think it is important to keep things in proportion.
“We have granted 98 percent of the licence applications from EU boats to fish in our waters according to the different criteria in the trade and co-operation agreement (TCA) so we do not accept that we are not abiding by that agreement.
“We have been extremely generous and the French focusing in on a small category of boats and claiming we have behaved unreasonably I think is not really a fair reflection of the efforts we have made.
“We would have liked a different sort of fisheries deal out of the TCA. We get control of our waters eventually but we agreed this deal and we are implementing in good faith, so I think it is unreasonable to suggest we are not.
“If there is a reaction from France, they will have to persuade others in the EU to go along with it, and it does need to be proportionate.”
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