Brexit: Britain-France Fishing Conflict

After Britain rejected licensing a large number of French fishing boats, Paris declared a Brexit War on London. France warned to block the Channel Tunnel linking France and the UK, accusing Britain of playing politics with fishing rules.


Relations have been strained between Britain and France in recent weeks. A few weeks back, France cancelled a defence meeting with the UK after the AUKUS row, a nuclear-propelled submarine deal between the UK, the US, and Australia, that left Paris in the dark.

Recently, France has been angered by fishing boat licences too, when Britain denied almost three-quarters of French fishing boats access to British waters. There were reportedly 47 French fishing boats that applied for new licences to fish in the UK territorial waters, but London only granted 12 licences. The French government said that 87 smaller fishing boats had requested fishing permissions instead of the 47 mentioned by Britain. This is part of post-Brexit controls by the UK over its exclusive economic zone, denying access to EU boats. France warned Britain of retaliatory measures and said that it would soon work with the EU on potential responses, unless the UK resolved the dispute quickly.

Fishery Talks Were a Key Part of Brexit Negotiations

Talks were hampered over the EU’s fishing rights in British waters during the long-term Brexit negotiations between the UK and the EU. Fishing rights were an impasse on the road to the Brexit trade deal. There were speculations that the entire Brexit negotiations would collapse because of the importance of fishing rights. It was agreed that there would be an adjustment period, which is five and a half years, starting from January 2021 until the end of June 2026; during this period the UK’s value of the catch in its own Economic Exclusion Zone (EEZ) will rise by more than 25%.

It will be worth around 140 million euros each year until 2026. EU boats are allowed to continue fishing in UK waters during this period, but UK fishing boats get the greater share of the fish from British waters. After this period, there will be annual negotiations to decide the share of the catch and Britain will then have the right to completely exclude EU boats from its waters.

TCA Defines Cooperation on UK-EU Fisheries

Regaining control over UK waters was a key reason among the many presented for the Brexit referendum of 2016. This was also among the final sticking points of the Brexit trade negotiations. In late December 2020, the UK and the EU reached a Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), part of which covers fisheries. In June 2021, the UK and the EU held the first post-Brexit negotiations on fishing opportunities between the UK and EU member states under the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA). They agreed on the management of key shared stocks, which secures fishing rights for both sides in UK and EU waters.

Total Allowable Catches (TAC) were established for shared fish stocks in 2021, and for deep sea stocks in 2021 and 2022. Access limits for non-quota species were provided clearly in this agreement. It was announced that the agreement was based on the state of fish stocks and enabled both sides of the channel to engage in quota exchanges.

EU Members Have Fishing Rights in All Territories

After the UK joined the European Economic Community (EEC), it accepted the new fishery rules like the other member states. “All members shall ensure in particular equal conditions of access to and use of the fishing grounds situated in the waters referred to in the preceding subparagraph for all fishing vessels flying the flag of a Member State and registered in Community territory.” According to the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), fish are categorised as shared resources, and fishing quota laws are those set by the EU; so EU nations do not control their territorial waters and do not set their own fishing quotas. Before the EEC’s fishery rules, an agreement called the London Fisheries Convention had been ratified in 1964 which gave the UK, France, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal, and Poland the right to fish in the area between six to twelve miles from their coastlines.

The UK Began Talks over Fishing Issues Following Brexit

Once the Brexit negotiations had started, the UK government announced it would withdraw from the London Fisheries Convention after 53 years to take control of its own waters. As long as Britain was a member of the European Union, the British fishing industry had to abide by the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy. Supporters of EU membership point out that British fishermen can fish elsewhere in EU waters, but the reality is that Britain has – or at least should have – some of the most productive fishing grounds in Europe, meaning there is a huge demand for EU vessels to access Britain’s territorial waters, but there is limited value in British fishermen catching fish elsewhere in the EU.

The way the EU set quotas was considered very unfair by British fishermen, because they had a small share of the catch within their own territorial waters. The UK wanted to take back control of its own waters and make sure that they can have sustainable fish stocks for the future.



Commercial fishing has often been an important factor for the European nations, in particular for the United Kingdom as a large country surrounded by water. Member states of the European Union have to share their waters with the other members. After Britain voted to exit the EU, British officials had negotiated the fishing rules and regulations with EU officials until the date it completely withdrew from the bloc. Because of its importance for the economy of the country, and because Britain has become an independent European nation, the UK preferred to have its fishing stocks under control without sharing it with others. Although some fishery agreements, among other trade settlements, were achieved by the Brexit deal, tensions and disorder occurred between the UK and the EU regarding the fishing matter.

In the latest incident, a large number of French boats were refused licence to enter the UK territorial waters to fish, which irked Paris. London used excuses such as the length of boats being over 12 metres, lack of available evidence, insufficient documents, etc, to justify its act. But French officials, who are still angry about the AUKUS nuclear deal, have threatened Britain with blocking the Channel Tunnel – the link between the two countries. It seems that Anglo-French ties are seriously strained and a new chapter in British alliances will be seen in the future.

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