UK sends Navy ships to Jersey as post-Brexit fishing dispute deepens



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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday sent two Navy patrol vessels to Jersey over concerns that French fishermen could blockade its main port in an escalating post-Brexit row.

France warned Tuesday it was weighing its response after the UK imposed rules governing access for French fishing boats near the Channel Islands, and said it could involve the electricity supply via underwater cables.

French fishermen also plan to converge on the island’s main port St Helier on Thursday, although authorities have said they do not intend to block access.

But Johnson announced on Wednesday that he was sending two patrol vessels “as a precautionary measure”, adding that a blockade “would be completely unjustified.”

British MP Tobias Ellwood accused France of “shameful behaviour,” saying “it would be wise to dispatch” a Royal Navy vessel.

French maritime minister Annick Girardin accused Jersey, the largest Channel Island, of dragging its feet over the issuing of licences to French vessels under the terms of Britain’s post-Brexit trade deal with Brussels.

Jersey, a self-governing British Crown dependency off the coast of France, has said it will require boats to submit further details before the licences can be granted, and pleaded for patience.

Johnson spoke to Jersey Chief Minister John Le Fondre on Wednesday, when the pair “stressed the urgent need for a de-escalation in tensions,” according to a statement from Downing Street.

“The Prime Minister underlined his unwavering support for Jersey,” it added.

A spokesman for Johnson’s government earlier called threats over Jersey’s electricity supply “unacceptable and disproportionate.”

‘Optimistic’

The deepening row over fishing is one of several disputes that have emerged between the UK and the European Union since London left the bloc’s single market and customs union at the start of the year.

Jersey External Affairs Minister Ian Gorst told BBC Radio on Wednesday: “It would seem disproportionate to cut off electricity for the sake of needing to provide extra details so that we can refine the licences.

“I do think a solution can be found. I am optimistic that we can provide extra time to allow this evidence to be provided.”

Paris and London have increasingly clashed over fishing in recent weeks, as French fishermen say they are being prevented from operating in British waters because of difficulties in obtaining licences.

On Thursday morning, around 100 French fishing vessels will sail to Jersey port to protest over the issuing of the licences, the head of fisheries for the Normandy region, Dimitri Rogoff, told AFP.

Rogoff said however that they would not try to blockade the port and would return to France in the afternoon.

In the latest move, Britain on Friday authorised 41 French ships equipped with Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) technology—which allows ships to be located—to fish in waters off Jersey.

But this list was accompanied by new demands which France’s fisheries ministry has said were not arranged or discussed with Paris, effectively creating new zoning rules for the waters near Jersey.

UK government minister Nadhim Zahawi said the two sides need to work “constructively” on “operational challenges that we need to fix together”.

“This is an issue for the (European) Commission to work with our team,” he told Sky News.

(AFP)



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India and Britain Ink Migration Deal; UK May Get ‘Outsourced’ IT Jobs


Jaishankar and Patel Sign Migration Pact, But There’s Fine Print: Minister for External Affairs S Jaishankar has signed a Migration and Mobility Partnership Agreement with British Home Secretary Priti Patel at a meeting during Jaishankar’s current visit to the UK. Jaishankar later tweeted: “A fruitful meeting this morning with Home Secretary Priti Patel. Signed the Migration and Mobility Partnership Agreement that would facilitate legal travel and encourage talent flows.” The keyword here appears to be “legal”. The flipside of the agreement is the tricky bit – Britain has sought Indian assistance in removing large numbers of illegal migrants from India. Determining who they are, and then deporting them will be a challenge.

Britain Flaunts Trade Deal with India as Brexit Success: The billion-pound deal announced by the prime ministers of Britain and India is being held up as a Brexit success in Britain. Trade Secretary Liz Truss told LBC Radio in London that the deal could not have been agreed had Britain still been a member of the European Union. Leaving the EU, she said, has made Britain “more flexible and nimble”. An India deal has long been heralded as the way for the UK to go once freed from the EU. The agreement now is a strong political message across Britain going beyond its business dimensions – it is being offered as evidence already of the success of Brexit.

Trade Pact Means More Jobs for UK: The new billion pound deal between India and Britain will have effects on several fronts. Among these is the creation of an expected 2,000 jobs in Britain by India-based IT companies Infosys and HCL Technologies. MPhasis, Wipro and Mastek are also due to create new jobs within the agreed investment. These will be among an expected 6,500 new jobs to be created around the UK under an agreed 533 million pounds of new Indian investment in Britain over the next three years.

‘Nursing’ the NHS Back to Health: Indian nurses working in Britain have been facing an alternating on and off policy for some years now. The agreement reached this week between India and the UK suggests a switch to the green light again. The deal agreed between the two prime ministers includes a facility to provide more training and then jobs for Indian nurses in Britain’s National Health Service. That measure comes amid reports of growing dissatisfaction among medical staff working in Britain; a significant number wants to leave. Britain is running short of both nurses and doctors. The agreement should help fill the gap in Britain, and bring some sought-after jobs in the UK for Indian nurses.

More Oxygen Concentrators May Give India a Breather: New efforts are on to raise funds to support India through the crisis concentrate on oxygen concentrators. These are devices that use oxygen in the air to give a patient boosted supply rather than the more conventional use of oxygen cylinders. The concentrators can, however, only boost oxygen up to a limited level, and are recommended for home use in relatively mild cases; they are not always a substitute for hospital-level oxygen supply. Of those in supply, the low-flow concentrator costs about 600 dollars, and a high-flow concentrator about 1,000 dollars. Several Indian community organisations have between them raised a few million dollars already. Others are looking for ways to send concentrators to their families as a standby if not for immediate need.

Read all the Latest News, Breaking News and Coronavirus News here



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Changing of the guard: Northern Ireland status quo upended by Brexit?



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Which way do the political winds blow in Northern Ireland? The centennial of the decision to remain in the United Kingdom has been overshadowed by the infighting within the Democratic Unionist Party of the now outgoing First Minister Arlene Foster, pushed out by her own rank and file. We ask if that signals a further tack to the right for the Christian fundamentalist, pro-Brexit DUP, which opposed Theresa May’s trade deal but with Boris Johnson now finds itself with a trade border in the Irish Sea. 

Brexit’s unintended consequences include a spike in sectarian tension, with recently the worst rioting seen in years. More than two decades after the Good Friday Agreement, why is there still sectarian tension and for that matter, some of Europe’s worst poverty on both sides of the divide? 

But there is also strong evidence against a return to a state of near civil war known as The Troubles: a solid 56 percent of Northern Irish voters opted to remain in the EU. That means Unionists and Republicans found themselves on the same side. Is their cause best served by sticking with Britain, or a unification referendum with Dublin?

Produced by Charles Wente, Juliette Laurain and Léopoldine Iribarren.



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France warns of retaliatory measures over post-Brexit fishing rights



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The French government warned Tuesday that it was weighing reprisals after Britain set new rules governing access for French fishing boats near the Channel Islands, the latest skirmish in a deepening post-Brexit dispute.

“We are ready to use these retaliation measures,” Maritime Minister Annick Girardin told lawmakers in parliament.

She mentioned in particular consequences involving the underwater cables that supply electricity from France to Jersey, the largest Channel island.

“I am sorry it has come to this,” Girardin said, but “we will do so if we have to.”

Paris and London have increasingly clashed over fishing in recent weeks, as French fishermen say they are being prevented from operating in British waters because of difficulties in obtaining licences.

In the latest move, Britain on Friday authorised 41 ships equipped with Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) technology – which allows ships to be located – to fish in waters off Jersey, a self-governing British Crown Dependency. 

But this list was accompanied by new demands “which were not arranged or discussed (with France), and which we were not notified about”, the French fisheries ministry said. 

The measures effectively create new zoning rules for the waters near Jersey – “where the ships can go and cannot go”, as well as the number of days the fishermen can spend at sea and using what machinery, the ministry added. 

“This is absolutely unacceptable,” Girardin said. “If we accept this for Jersey, it would imperil our access everywhere.”

(AFP)



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France rejects UK’s post-Brexit provisional changes to fishing licences



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France has called on the European Commission to intervene after rejecting Britain’s provisional changes to fishing licences under the Brexit agreement, which would affect fishing rights in the Channel Islands.

France’s ministry for maritime affairs said Monday that it considered the new requirements put forth by the UK as “null and void” and called for a strict compliance on fisheries as negotiated under the Brexit agreement.

“If the UK wants to introduce new provisions then it must submit these to the European Commission, who then notifies us, which enables us to engage in a dialogue. At this stage, we find that these new technical measures are not applicable to our fishermen as they stand,” the ministry told AFP.

The new provisions concern new fishing zones, particularly around the waters of Jersey Island, “where vessels can and cannot go”, while specifying the “number of days” fishermen can spend at sea and “with what gear”, the department said.

On Friday, the UK published a list of 41 fishing vessels equipped with Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) and authorised to fish in waters around Jersey Island since Saturday.

The European Commission had been informed of the new provisions and was expected to “enter into a dialogue with the United Kingdom to understand what the changes mean and to provide us with some clarifications”, the ministry said.  

“It is clear that there will need to be a response to what the Jersey authorities have done in relation to fishing authorisations. We hope that the state will take retaliatory measures,” said Dimitri Rogoff, president of the Normandy regional fisheries committee.

The regional fisheries committees of Brittany and Normandy have threatened “a suspension of all economic relations with Jersey, including the ferry link between Jersey and the Continent”, in a joint statement sent to AFP.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)



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How Brexit created a ‘recipe for endless tension’ among Northern Irish unionists



Arlene Foster announced her resignation as Northern Irish first minister on Thursday after members of her Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) urged even stronger opposition to the customs border in the Irish Sea – the latest sign of the fear and anger Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal has provoked among unionists.

Whenever instability flares in Northern IrelandBritish political commentators frequently reference Winston Churchill’s famous line from 1922 that “the whole map of Europe has been changed […] but as the deluge subsides and the waters fall short we see the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerging once again”.

The cataclysm of World War I had suspended the 1914 Irish Home Rule Act granting self-government to the whole of Ireland, the prospect of which had prompted Ulster Protestants to create a paramilitary force out of desire to remain in the UK. But after the carnage on the Western Front ended, Ulster Protestants’ unionist demands roared again – leading to the creation of Northern Ireland in 1921 to protect their British identity.

Now as the Brexit deluge subsides and Northern Ireland prepares to mark its centenary in May, it is the map of the UK that has been changed – with a customs border separating the province from Great Britain and reawakening old unionist fears of being separated from the mainland.

A vindicated warning

The Northern Ireland Protocol in the Brexit withdrawal deal replaced the prospect of a problematic frontier between the UK and the Republic of Ireland with the reality of a problematic frontier between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

The protocol keeps Northern Ireland aligned with many EU laws while Great Britain can diverge from them, necessitating checks on goods flowing between the two parts of the UK.

When Prime Minister Boris Johnson finally struck an agreement with the EU in October 2019, Brexiteers – and many others suffering from Brexit fatigue – greeted the divorce deal with euphoric relief after three years of interminable wrangling over the Northern Irish border under his predecessor, Theresa May. But the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) expressed outrage about the customs frontier in the Irish Sea. “It isn’t Brexit for the whole of the United Kingdom,” the party’s deputy leader Nigel Dodds told journalists at the time.

Jonathan Powell, ex-PM Tony Blair’s chief negotiator for the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, was one of the few voices in the British establishment to warn that Johnson’s deal posed a serious threat to Northern Irish unionists’ interests. “The hard border in the Irish Sea is a real problem for them,” Powell wrote in the Irish Times soon after Johnson reached the deal.

“It will grow wider over time as the UK diverges in terms of regulation and as we introduce new tariffs,” Powell continued. “And that widening border will threaten their British identity.”

Powell was vindicated when the Irish Sea border disrupted food supplies and online shopping deliveries as Brexit kicked in on January 1, 2021 – and then in early February when graffiti opposing the customs border emerged in unionist areas while authorities had to suspend customs checks at Northern Irish ports due to “menacing behaviour” from some loyalist militants.

‘A recipe for endless tension’

Out of fear that this trade frontier constitutes too much of a barrier between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, the Loyalist Community Council (LCC) representing paramilitary groups withdrew their support for the Good Friday Agreement, telling Johnson in a letter that “if you or the EU is not prepared to honour the entirety of the agreement then you will be responsible for [its] permanent destruction” – while emphasising that opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol must be “peaceful and democratic”.

In early April, things kicked off – with a week of street violence in unionist areas until protesters and rioters stopped upon news of the death of Prince Philip out of respect for the Royal Family.

The LCC said it was not involved and urged calm – while warning there had been a “spectacular collective failure to understand properly the scale and nature of Unionist and Loyalist anger” over the protocol.

The DUP rank-and-file ousted Foster in large part because they want a harder line against the customs border. However, it is unclear how the party’s stance could be any stronger: Foster had repeatedly urged the EU to scrap the protocol. Yet Brussels is adamant that the protocol cannot be changed, rejecting Foster’s demands and launching legal action against the British government’s move to introduce changes in March.

This standoff looks intractable and is set to keep the DUP in a position of impotent complaint, said Tim Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary, University of London. “It’s a classic case of an irresistible force meeting an unmovable object – a recipe for endless tension if not imminent chaos.”

‘An incredible betrayal’

Yet throughout the Brexit saga the DUP seemed blind to the factors that ultimately led to the protocol.       

The party backed Leave in the 2016 referendum. However, the DUP “didn’t think through the implications of a Leave vote, especially for the Irish border”, noted Jon Tonge, an expert on Northern Irish politics at Liverpool University. “It expected a narrow Remain win and didn’t have a clue what to do when the UK actually voted Leave.”

The DUP then gained disproportionate power following the 2017 general elections: The votes of its 10 MPs propped up May’s government after she lost the Conservatives’ majority. But they refused to support her withdrawal deal – on the grounds that it would have kept the UK under EU rules for an indefinite period – and then backed May’s successor Johnson.

“The DUP clearly miscalculated by not acceding to May’s Irish backstop, which would at least have seen Northern Ireland treated the same as the rest of the UK as far as customs regulations were concerned,” Bale observed. “Who knows what magical solution they thought might provide a workable alternative? But trusting Boris Johnson, of all people, to keep his word and come up with one always did beggar belief.”

Johnson told the 2018 DUP party conference that “no British Conservative government could or should sign up to any […] agreement” requiring custom checks in the Irish Sea – a year before he did exactly that as prime minister. “It was an incredible betrayal,” as Tonge put it. 

Vote on a united Ireland a question of ‘when, not if’

But even more than Johnson throwing them under the bus with the Irish Sea border, perhaps the biggest tragedy for the DUP is that Brexit has weakened Northern Irish unionism, the party’s raison d’être. Polls suggest unionism still has a lead over Irish nationalism in the province – but it has narrowed since the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Demographic trends have shifted in favour of Northern Ireland’s largely nationalist Catholics over the past two decades. Yet religious identity in the province is no longer interchangeable with political identity. The 2011 UK census showed that 45 percent of Northern Irish said they came from a Catholic background, but only 25 percent expressed an exclusively Irish identity.

In light of this, until the Brexit referendum it seemed that Northern Irish unionism would resist the demographic headwinds. After the 1998 Good Friday Agreement ended decades of sectarian conflict and created a power-sharing arrangement in Belfast, there emerged a “growing proportion” of the Catholic population feeling “comfortable” within the UK, explained Katy Hayward, a professor of political sociology at Queen’s University Belfast and a senior fellow at the UK in a Changing Europe think-tank.

Many such people “like aspects of the UK such as the National Health Service”, Tonge added. While they would “never vote for unionist parties”, a lot of these Northern Irish Catholics had come to “quietly see themselves as small ‘u’ unionists”, he continued.

Brexit was an “overhaul of the status quo” that took Northern Ireland out of the EU despite 56 percent of voters in the province choosing Remain, Hayward noted. “This exposed some of the consequences for Catholics and nationalists of being in the union and led to deep unease – particularly as it led to the prospect of a hard border with the Irish Republic, an open border being so important for nationalists and Catholics,” she continued.

The Good Friday Agreement requires a referendum – called a “border poll” when referring to Northern Ireland – if the British secretary of state responsible for the province thinks a majority would vote for a united Ireland. The agreement allows for a border poll every seven years.

“It’s a question of when, not if, there’s a referendum, although I don’t see it as imminent,” Tonge said. “I would expect the unionists to win the first one, but I think there will be more than one – if the nationalists lost narrowly it wouldn’t be the end of the story.”



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Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster quits after Brexit fallout



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Arlene Foster is to step down as Northern Ireland’s First Minister at the end of June, bowing to pressure from members of her Democratic Unionist Party unhappy at her leadership over Brexit and social issues. 

Her announcement adds to instability in the British province, where angry young pro-British loyalists rioted in recent weeks over the perceived growing power of Irish nationalists and post-Brexit trade barriers with the rest of the United Kingdom.

Foster, who took power in 2016, said in a statement that she would also step down as party leader on May 28.

Her leadership of Northern Ireland was “the privilege of my life,” she said.

The announcement comes a day after a majority of DUP lawmakers signed a letter seeking a confidence vote in Foster, who many blame for mishandling Brexit negotiations.

Foster resisted compromise on the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union when her party wielded huge power in propping up the government of former British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Foster’s decision to throw DUP support behind May’s successor Boris Johnson then backfired spectacularly when he broke the party’s “blood red line” and agreed to Brussels’ demand for trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

The resulting Northern Ireland Protocol leaves Northern Ireland within the EU’s trading sphere, avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland but infuriating pro-British unionists by undermining the region’s cherished place in the United Kingdom.

Although Foster has repeatedly called on the EU to scrap the protocol – something it says it will not do – some party figures have demanded an even harder line.

Others have complained that she is too liberal for what is one of the most socially conservative political parties in Europe and that her opposition to gay rights and womens’ rights is not stringent enough.

Analysts have pointed to several possible candidates to succeed her including Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots, the party’s leader in the London parliament, Jeffrey Donaldson and fellow MP Gavin Robinson.

But it was unclear how a new leader might shift the political fortunes of the DUP, which has been losing support to both the moderate cross community Alliance Party and the small hardline Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV).

“There isn’t a clear ideological direction for the party to go in and that’s the problem with this coup,” said Jon Tonge, politics professor at the University of Liverpool.

A harder line from a new leader on either Brexit or social issues could destabilise Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government that the DUP leads with Irish nationalist rivals Sinn Fein under the terms of the 1998 peace deal that ended three decades of political and sectarian bloodshed between pro-British unionists and Irish nationalists.

“Sinn Féin will work with all parties to progress social reform, political change and economic prosperity – but we will robustly oppose damaging policies or regressive throwback politics of the past,” Sinn Fein’s Northern Ireland leader Michelle O’Neill said in a statement. 

(REUTERS)



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European Parliament approves post-Brexit trade deal with UK



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The European Parliament has voted overwhelmingly in favour of the post-Brexit trade deal between Britain and the European Union, clearing the last hurdle towards full ratification of the accord.

EU lawmakers backed the trade and cooperation agreement by 660 votes to five, with 32 abstentions, the parliament announced on Wednesday. The vote took place on Tuesday, but coronavirus working restrictions meant the result was not immediately known.

Parliament’s consent brings to an end over four years of acrimonious negotiations and debate and lingering mistrust as Britain ended 47 years of EU membership. 

The deal, which was finalised on Christmas Eve, had already been ratified by the UK parliament and conditionally came into force pending the European Parliament’s approval, which marks the final legal hurdle.

The UK had joined the bloc in 1973.

“Today the European Parliament voted on the most far reaching agreement the EU has ever reached with a third country,” said the president of the European assembly, David Sassoli. 

“This can form the foundation on which we build a new forward-looking EU-UK relationship,” he said, warning that MEPs would monitor the implementation of the deal and “not accept any backsliding from the UK government.” 

Sassoli added: “You cannot have the advantages of EU membership while being on the outside. However, this agreement goes a long way to mitigate its worst consequences.”

Agreement has ‘real teeth’

The vote comes amid multiple feuds over the UK’s implementation of Brexit agreements and angry finger-pointing about the supply of the Covid-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca.

It ends five years of a Brexit saga in which Britain and Europe also sealed a divorce deal that bitterly divided the UK and saw the future of peace on the island of Ireland thrust into doubt.

A recent wave of rioting in the British province of Northern Ireland has been blamed on the consequences of Brexit arrangements with talks underway in Brussels and London to find a long-term solutions.

In a final debate in the EU parliament on Tuesday, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen assured MEPs that the agreement had “real teeth” and that any deviation by London from the pact would have consequences.

“And let me be very clear: We do not want to have to use these tools, but we will not hesitate to use them if necessary,” she warned.

Britain also welcomed the vote, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling it “the final step in a long journey”.

Johnson said ratification would provide “stability” in UK-EU relations, while his chief negotiator in the talks, David Frost, said it brought “certainty and allows us to focus on the future”.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)



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French fishermen seek to block British shipments in Brexit protest



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French trawlermen angered by the slow issuance of licenses to fish inside British waters after Brexit on Thursday blocked lorries carrying UK-landed fish as they arrived in Boulogne-sur-Mer, Europe’s largest seafood processing centre.

Britain’s post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union allowed the bloc’s fishermen to keep fishing deep into British waters, but only once they had received a license.

Those licenses were expected to be issued swiftly but instead some 80% of the French fleet in the northern Hauts-de-France region, from whose coastline Britain’s southern shores are visible, were still waiting, French fishermen said.

“We thought it would be a matter of days. Four months on we’ve barely moved forwards,” said Bruno Margolle, who heads the main fishermen’s cooperative in Boulogne-sur-Mer.

Some 80 fishermen set off flares on the Boulogne docks, blocked two trucks with a barricade of wood pallets and barrels, and put up a sign that read: “You want to keep your waters??? OK … So, keep your fish!!!”.

Many of the skippers struggling to obtain a license were unable to meet the British demand for electronic data showing they had fished in UK waters during the five years running up to Britain’s 2016 referendum on EU membership, Margolle said.

Britain maintained an evidence-based approach to licensing EU vessels using information supplied by the European Commission, the British government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said.

“(We) consider this reaction to be unjustified,” a DEFRA spokesman said. The British government had raised its concerns over the protest with French authorities, the spokesman added.

The French government late on Thursday urged the European Commission to take “firm and determined action” to ensure Britain applies the deal.

“We will act in a spirit of European solidarity and cooperation with Britain, but the urgency of the situation compels us all to speed up efforts,” Europe Minister Clement Beaune and Sea Minister Annick Girardin said in a statement.

About two-thirds of UK-landed fish are exported to the continent. In the first weeks of the year, Britain’s exit from the EU’s orbit led to a chaotic breakdown in supply chains, which used to see Scottish scallops and langoustine in French shops barely a day after they were harvested.

Meanwhile, fishermen in northern France say their livelihoods depend on access to British waters, where they chase mackerel, whiting, squid and other species.

Margolle said French fish stocks risked being depleted if French fishermen could not cross into British waters. Some fishermen were keeping their boats tied up in port, he said.

“It’s not worth going out to sea to lose money,” Margolle said.

(REUTERS)



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Britain, EU trade pack headed for approval by European Parliament


BRUSSELS, Belgium: Committees of the European Parliament handling relations with Britain have approved the EU-UK post-Brexit trade and cooperation deal, thereby making way for its ratification.

In March, leaders of the European Parliament postponed the ratification, as a mark of disapproval of the unilateral decisions made by the government of the UK in the Britain-Northern Ireland trade provisions, as Brussels alleged that the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement’s terms were breached.

Britain departed from the EU on January 31 following protracted periods of complex discussions centering on their relations in the future, though ambiguity still lingers over several details, thereby triggering an acrimonious atmosphere.

However, the trade and foreign affairs committees of the Parliament have approved the December trade and cooperation agreement, with 108 votes favoring it.

The European Parliament is expected to also approve the agreement, though uncertainty still looms over how some members will vote.



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