Fish Fight: UK sends two navy boats to Jersey after France threatens blockade

Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged on Wednesday his 'unwavering support' for the island after he spoke with Jersey officials about the prospect of the French blockade [File: Petros Karadjias/AP]

Britain is sending two navy patrol boats to Jersey after France suggested it could cut power supplies to the Channel island if its fishermen are not granted full access to UK fishing waters under post-Brexit trading terms.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday promised his “unwavering support” for the island after he discussed the prospect of a French blockade with Jersey officials. Johnson “stressed the urgent need for a de-escalation in tensions,” a spokesperson for Johnson said. “As a precautionary measure the UK will be sending two Offshore Patrol Vessels to monitor the situation.”

Paris and London have increasingly clashed over fishing in recent weeks, as French fishermen say they are being prevented from operating in British waters because of difficulties in obtaining licences. On Tuesday, France warned it was weighing its response after the UK imposed rules governing access for French fishing boats near the Channel Islands and said it could involve the electricity supply via underwater cables.

French fishermen also plan to converge on the island’s main port St Helier on Thursday, although authorities have said they do not intend to block access to it. Earlier, France’s Seas Minister Annick Girardin said she was “disgusted” to learn that Jersey had issued 41 licences with unilaterally imposed conditions, including the time French fishing vessels could spend in its waters.

“In the (Brexit) deal there are retaliatory measures. Well, we’re ready to use them,” Girardin told France’s National Assembly on Tuesday. “Regarding Jersey, I remind you of the delivery of electricity along underwater cables … Even if it would be regrettable if we had to do it, we’ll do it if we have to.”

Jersey, a British crown dependence, has a population of 108,000 and imports 95 percent of its electricity from France, with diesel generators and gas turbines providing backup, according to energy news agency S&P Global Platts.

Jersey’s government said France and the European Union had expressed their unhappiness with the conditions placed on the issuance of fishing licences. 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 licence must reflect how much time a vessel had spent in Jersey’s waters before Brexit.

“We are entering a new era and it takes time for all to adjust. Jersey has consistently shown its commitment to finding a smooth transition to the new regime,” Horst said in a statement. The rocky island sits 14 miles (23 kilometres) off the northern French coast in the English Channel, and 85 miles (140km) south of Britain’s shores. The French threat is the latest flare-up over fishing rights between the two countries.

Last month, French trawler workers angered by delays to licences to fish in British waters blocked trucks carrying UK-landed fish with burning barricades as they arrived in Boulogne-sur-Mer, Europe’s largest seafood processing centre.

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