United Kingdom sending patrol boats to Jersey over post-Brexit dispute

Lula Sharp
May 7, 2021

Britain's government said Wednesday it is sending two navy patrol vessels to monitor the situation on the island of Jersey amid an escalating dispute with France over fishing rights in the waters there following Britain's departure from the European Union.

At dawn, French trawlers could be seen massed in front of the Saint Helier port on Jersey, a self-governing territory that is dependent on Britain for defence.

Jersey authorities have a right to regulate fisheries in their waters under this agreement and we support them in exercising those rights. Around 95 per cent of Jersey's electricity is carried by underwater cables from France, with the remaining covered by diesel generators on the island.

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 on Wednesday evening.

The flotilla, made up of fishermen angered by Jersey's decision to place new restrictions on fishing licences granting access to its waters, has threatened to bring the island "to its knees".

On Tuesday, French Maritime Minister Annick Girardin warned that France could cut electricity supplies to Jersey in retaliation, a sharp escalation condemned by the British government as "unacceptable".

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was "pleased the situation in Jersey has been resolved".

French fishermen are threatening to blockade the port of Saint Helier, the capital of Jersey, Channel Islands.

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"The French fishermen out there want conditions removed from their licenses so that they can fish with no constraints in our waters, whilst our boats are subject to all sorts of conditions", he told Good Morning Britain. The UK government is constitutionally responsible for the global relations of the crown dependencies.

Jersey's external relations minister, Ian Gorst, said the island had issued permits in accordance with the post-Brexit trade terms, and that they stipulated any new license must reflect how much time a vessel had spent in Jersey's waters before Brexit. "That's the case for Jersey and that's the case for the licences we are waiting for in the Hauts de France" region.

He said that of the 41 boats which sought licences under the new rules last Friday, all but 17 had provided the evidence required.

"We are continuing our discussions with the United Kingdom, we call for calm in this situation, and we are doing what is foreseen in the agreement, as well as keeping in mind of course the best interests of our fishing community", the Commission spokeswoman said.

AFP cited a spokesperson for the coast guard on the Channel as saying that one of the French boats was a gendarme police vessel and the other a maritime administration patrol boat.

France said its two vessels were not on military missions and were told to stay in French waters and to be near the French fishermen to ensure safety.

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We agreed that all sides remain committed to engaging with our partners in the European Union and France to resolve the concerns arising from the issuing of fishing licenses under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which led to today's protest.

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