The Guernsey fishing ban has dealt a bitter blow to French morale, Dimitri Rogoff, president of the Regional Committee of Normandy fisheries, said on Thursday.
Mr Rogoff told the French daily Le Monde: “Our morale has taken a serious hit,” after French fishermen were temporarily banned from entering the waters of Guernsey due to post-Brexit administrative changes.
He said: “The French state is also to blame for the situation, because it was not strong enough and failed to negotiate with Guernsey authorities.
“I would not want this to be a foretaste of future problems.
“If the government and Brussels do not manage to consolidate our access to British waters before the end of the transition period, if no French boat can go fishing beyond the centre-line of the Channel, then the situation will explode.
“We can no longer rule out this disastrous scenario.”
The agreement on water access to Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands situated near the French coast of Normandy, was based on a European fisheries treaty that automatically became obsolete after the Withdrawal Agreement came into force last week.
London and Brussels must now negotiate a post-Brexit trade agreement but for now, the relationship remains unchanged until the end of the transition period on December 31, meaning that French fishermen should retain access to Guernsey waters.
However, authorities in Guernsey, a crown dependency, unilaterally decided to implement a new system whereby boats would need to get individual authorisations to enter the waters 6 to 12 miles off its coasts.
On Tuesday, France’s Europe Minister Amélie de Montchalin sought to quell fears of a prolonged dispute, saying that a solution to the ban would be found by Friday.
“Things should return to normal by the end of this week,” Ms de Montchalin told reporters.
The fishing dispute shows how just one small industry could crush ambitions of striking a wider trade deal that preserves the UK’s access to European markets, and vice versa.
Britain’s fishing waters are among the richest in the North East Atlantic zone where most of the EU catch is hauled in. Current rules allow EU boats to fish as close as six nautical miles to Britain’s coast.
Regaining control of British waters was a totem for Brexit campaigners, who argue too many concessions were made when the UK joined the EU in 1973.
But the European Commission has repeatedly warned there could be no free trade agreement without a fisheries accord.
Any post-Brexit deal must include a deal on fisheries that would give reciprocal access to waters, and conditions on these must be established by July 1, 2020, the bloc’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said earlier this week.
Both sides want to secure a trade pact, but Britain has set a tight deadline and the EU has warned that if Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants a zero-tariff, zero-quota deal, he will have to sign up to its rules and regulations to ensure fair competition.
Mr Johnson refuses to do such a thing, arguing that London is not asking the EU accept UK rules.