The HMS Severn, one of the two Royal Navy boats monitoring the French protest off Jersey Island
Tensions are running high around the island of Jersey this morning as up to 60 French and Jersey vessels protest over post-Brexit fishing rights.
French fishers have gathered at the island’s St Helier port to protest over what they call are unfair and restrictive licensing conditions that the government of Jersey brought into force last week. Earlier in the morning the French fleet had entered the harbour but left and are currently situated off the south coast of the island. Two Jersey boats – the Normandy Trader and Sanderling – have also joined the demonstration according to a report in the Jersey Evening Post.
The protest comes days after the French had issued a threat to cut off the electricity supply to the island in retaliation for the fishing licence issue.
French fishermen have complained about being prevented from operating in UK waters because of difficulties in obtaining licences from the relevant authorities.
Under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the EU, French vessels must show a history of fishing in the area to receive a licence for Jersey’s waters. But the French have claimed that additional requirements were added without notice.
Jersey has the sole power to issue the licences, and as of last week all fishing boats were required to have this new licence to operate there.
On Friday, 30 April, the Jersey government granted 41 permits to French fishing vessels that are equipped with AIS technology that allows them to be located but the French Government claimed the list of approved ships came with further demands that “were not arranged or discussed, and which we were not notified about”.
In reply to the blockade, Downing Street has sent two Royal Navy vessels, the HMS Severn and HMS Tamar, to “monitor the situation” but the Jersey Evening Post has reported that both vessels have stayed clear of the main flotilla, with HMS Severn near Corbière and HMS Tamar in St Aubin’s Bay.
The Jersey Evening Post has also reported that the French are sending one of their navy boats to the scene.
In a statement issued last night, the UK government said:
“This evening the Prime Minister spoke to the Chief Minister of Jersey, Senator John Le Fondré, and the Minister of External Affairs, Ian Gorst, about the prospect of a blockade of Saint Helier.
“The Prime Minister and Chief Minister stressed the urgent need for a de-escalation in tensions and for dialogue between Jersey and France on fishing access.
“The Prime Minister underlined his unwavering support for Jersey. He said that any blockade would be completely unjustified. As a precautionary measure the UK will be sending two Offshore Patrol Vessels to monitor the situation. Jersey’s government yesterday called for an urgent de-escalation of tensions between the Island and France.”
MEP Stephanie Yon-Courtin, a member of the EU fisheries committee, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme they were “taken by surprise” by new fishing rules, adding: “We are counting on the good faith from Jersey and the UK government to help and deescalate the tension.”
Of the threats to cut off electricity to Jersey, she said “these are only words we are not ready for war”, but she added “all retaliatory measures will be explored”.
The new fishing rules – introduced by the Jersey government under the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) – require French boats to show they have a history of fishing in Jersey’s waters.
But French authorities said “new technical measures” for fishing off the Channel Islands had not been communicated to the EU, rendering them “null and void”.