An EU plan to exclude French ports from new shipping routes linking Ireland with the Continent after Brexit is “scandalous and unacceptable”, the leader of the northern French region said yesterday.
Xavier Bertrand, the president of the Hauts de France region that includes the ports of Calais, Boulogne and Dunkirk, urged the European Commission to review its decision to ship goods via Belgium and the Netherlands instead of France.
The proposal adopted by the European Commission last week is intended to prevent Irish exports to the Continent from being delayed by UK customs checks if Britain can no longer be part of EU routes after Brexit.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, has rejected Theresa May’s proposals on customs. He has repeatedly warned that frictionless trade is impossible outside the EU’s single market and customs union, even if there is a UK-EU free trade agreement.
But French ports stand to lose billions of pounds in EU grants if Dublin and Cork are linked with mainland Europe via the Belgian ports of Zeebrugge and Antwerp and the Dutch port of Rotterdam.
The EU fears delays from striking French port workers if trade continues to run through Calais after Brexit
The EU fears delays from striking French port workers if trade continues to run through Calais after Brexit Credit: AFP
The European Commission is believed to be concerned about severe congestion in northern France if customs checks are introduced to cross the Channel, and from possible industrial action by French port workers.
“This is a scandalous and unacceptable decision,” Mr Bertrand told the Daily Telegraph.“The risk of traffic jams if new customs checks are introduced after Brexit is the same for France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Why discriminate against our ports? The European Commission should review this and the French government should react.”
But the French government is facing increasing domestic pressure to block the EU’s proposed new routes. The plan cuts out major French ports such as Roscoff and Cherbourg that are closer to Ireland than Belgian or Dutch ports. French Channel ports would no longer qualify for extra funding from Brussels to upgrade their facilities.
Mrs May has ruled out a European Commission proposal to keep Northern Ireland in the single market and customs union, which would create a new border in the Irish Sea, if Britain’s preferred options of a free trade agreement or innovative technical border solutions fail.