Two Royal Navy ships have started patrolling the waters off Jersey after Boris Johnson sent them into an increasingly deep row between the UK and France over fishing rights.
The craft – HMS Tamar and HMS Severn – sits in crowded waters as more than 50 French fishing boats converged on the port of St Helier, the capital of Jersey, on Thursday to protest the restrictions on the island on French fishermen.
Demands that French ships be fitted with monitoring devices and meet other criteria to obtain licenses prompted France to threaten to cut the power supply to the Channel Island because of the dispute.
The disagreement comes amid more general complaints from French fishermen over difficulties obtaining the licenses needed to fish in British coastal waters, a problem solved by the EU-UK trade deal concluded last year.
Downing Street said Wednesday evening that Johnson had spoken with the Jersey chief minister and the foreign affairs minister about the threat of a blockade of St Helier by a French fisherman.
“The Prime Minister underlined his unwavering support for Jersey. He said any blockade would be totally unjustified, ”said a spokesperson. “As a precaution, the UK will send two offshore patrol boats to monitor the situation.”
Fishermen on the French Normandy coast say they have worked in these waters for years, but now face unreasonable borders in the wake of Brexit.
Dimitri Rogoff, who heads the Normandy regional fishing committee, said the idea was not to block Saint-Hélier but to make a point.
Carteret fisherman Camille Lécureuil told AFP, the French news agency, that protesters decided Thursday morning to stop a freighter, Commodore Goodwill, from leaving the port, as the plan called for the boats return to France in the afternoon.
“It’s a peaceful movement, things don’t have to get out of hand,” he said. “We even have the support of Jersey. Three fishing boats from the island came to support us.
Meanwhile, Brussels intervened in the dispute, calling on Britain to explain the conditions attached to access to waters around Jersey.
According to two people briefed on the matter, the European Commission has written to the UK government seeking clarification on the special conditions attached to fishing licenses off Jersey and requested that in the meantime they not be applied.
The letter, sent on Tuesday, says that under the “trade and cooperation agreement” concluded between Britain and the EU last year, the UK should have warned Brussels in advance of any additional conditions associated with obtaining licenses.
Brussels says in the letter that such requirements should be science-based and non-discriminatory. He also says the conditions should not be enforced until Britain has shown they are justified on those grounds, according to people briefed on the contents of the letter.
A spokesperson for the committee said that Brussels “has made it clear to the UK that the provisions of the EU-UK ACT have not been complied with”.
“Until UK authorities provide further justification for the new conditions, these new conditions should not apply,” the spokesperson said. “The commission remains in close contact with France and the United Kingdom on this subject.”
Brussels has the option of opening formal dispute settlement procedures with the UK under the two parties’ trade deal if the EU decides Britain is violating the spirit of the deal, which preserved certain EU fishing rights in waters near the Channel Islands. .
Jersey, the largest member of the archipelago and a dependency of the British crown, receives 95% of its electricity from France through submarine cables. Its foreign policy is governed by the UK, which means it is treated as a third country by the EU.
Annick Girardin, the French Minister of Maritime Affairs, told the French National Assembly on Tuesday that she was “outraged” that Jersey had granted 41 fishing licenses which included specific conditions and criteria “decided unilaterally and without explanation”.
“This is unacceptable,” she told lawmakers. “We are prepared to resort to retaliatory measures. . . concerning Jersey, I remind you of the transmission of electricity via submarine cables. Girardin added that she “would regret” any action but “we will do it if necessary”.
French fishermen and ministers have been complaining for two weeks about the difficulty of gaining access to British waters despite the fisheries agreement reached at the end of last year.
Clément Beaune, France’s little European affairs minister, threatened last week to block regulations that would allow British financial firms to do business in the EU if Britain failed to comply with its Brexi fishing commitments.
Bertrand Sorre, deputy of President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party La République en Marche, shared the example of a fisherman from Granville in Normandy. The man had previously fished for scallops and whelks for an average of 40 days a year off Jersey, but was told he could only fish 11 days this year, and only for scallops.
Ian Gorst, Jersey’s foreign affairs minister, said the island had issued the licenses in accordance with the UK’s trade and cooperation agreement with the EU and that the new regime “would take time for everything to happen. the world is adjusting ”.
The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “We are convinced that Jersey is responsible for its own territorial waters.”
Nadhim Zahawi, the British Minister for Business, urged the two sides to “settle” the fishing problems. “We need to look at this urgently and the best way to solve this problem is to work together,” he told Sky News.