12:00 GMT18 January 2021
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    On Monday, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier pointed out that a free trade deal between the UK and the EU was still possible but the issue of fishing rights remains a sticking point in the two sides' ongoing negotiations.

    Sky News has quoted a French fisherman as pledging that he and his fellow workers will retaliate against the UK possibly ending the Brexit transition period without a trade deal with the EU.

    "We just won't accept it. For now, we haven't said much, because I think we still had hope, but if we end up with a no deal, then we will all take action", Laurent Merlin said.

    He added French fishermen are "really stressed" over the situation amid the ongoing EU-UK trade deal talks.

    Referring to British coastal waters, Merlin noted that "everyone is impatient to find out what's happening, because some of my colleagues have got a lot of gear out in those waters".

    "Personally, I have €40,000 ($49,000) worth of lobster cages out in UK waters at the moment. We don't know whether to leave them there or to bring them back. We've been told to take them out of UK waters before 1 January, and […] if Brexit really does happen [without a trade deal], then we are dead", he concluded.

    French Fishermen Pledge to Blockade Channel Ports

    His remarks come a few days after French fishermen warned they will set up blockades in English Channel ports in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

    The fishermen said they would respond to having "zero access" to UK waters by blocking ships carrying vital goods from entering major ports such as Calais. 

    "If we are deprived of our fishing grounds, we will not watch the British supply the French market", Dimitri Rogoff, president of the Normandy regional fisheries committee (CPRM), told the radio station France Info.

    Four Royal Navy gunboats are now reportedly on standby to stop EU trawlers accessing UK waters from 1 January if trade talks break down.

    Responding to the move, Rogoff said that "sending warships would mean that we are negotiating things relating to war". According to him, it's irrelevant "at the time of negotiations to flex your muscles like that".

    Fisheries Issue

    Fisheries remain one of the most sensitive points in the EU-UK trade talks. The UK has called for annual renegotiation over fishing quotas, insisting that access should be determined with each country separately.

    The common European fisheries policy envisages that all EU member states gain access to the union's waters through quotas. EU members, especially France, opposes Britain's intention to control who fishes in its waters, because more than 60 percent of the catch from that area is fished by foreign vessels.

    On 24 November, the Fisheries Act 2020 was passed into law, annulling the automatic access to British fishing grounds given to foreign boats and establishing a new licensing regime in the UK fishing industry.

    London has already reached agreements with Norway and the Faroe Islands over British fishing grounds, also signing memoranda of understanding with Greenland and Iceland.

    Britain officially left the EU in January 2020. The Withdrawal Agreement came into force on 31 January, and includes an 11-month transition phase that allows the UK to operate as a member of the bloc. London and Brussels are due to ink a post-Brexit free trade agreement before this period expires on 31 December, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson repeatedly warning of a no-deal scenario.


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