EU accuses UK as France seeks to ‘rapidly defuse’ Jersey fishing row

France moves to calm diplomatic waters but Brussels says Britain has breached terms of Brexit trade deal

The European Union accused the UK of breaching the terms of the post-Brexit trade deal on Thursday as tensions over fishing rights in the Channel Islands were de-escalated after a dramatic 24 hours, with Royal Navy boats ordered to retreat from Jersey shores.

Brussels’ claim that London had flouted the rules came on a day in which 60 vessels blockaded Jersey’s harbour, a French boat rammed a British fishing vessel and Boris Johnson declared his unequivocal support for the Channel island in the battle with its nearest neighbours.

France, which had on Tuesday escalated tensions by warning the alleged breach could result in Jersey’s supply of electricity being cut, moved to calm the choppy diplomatic waters on Thursday.

In a statement, the French foreign ministry said it wanted to “rapidly defuse” the situation before it got out of control.

“We won’t be intimidated by these manoeuvres [of navy boats],” said France’s EU affairs minister, Clément Beaune. “Our wish is not to have tensions, but to have a quick and full application of the deal. That’s the case for Jersey and that’s the case for the licences we are waiting for in the Hauts-de-France [region]. We’re working non-stop with the European Commission and British authorities,” he said.

A UK government spokesperson said the navy vessels would prepare to return to port but would “remain on standby to provide further assistance” to Jersey if required. “We are pleased that French fishing boats have now left the vicinity of Jersey,” the spokesperson said.

But the government remained full-square behind Jersey’s right to impose its own conditions on the narrow stretch of waters between the island and France, 13 miles away.

Map

It indicated it would work with Brussels to resolve the dispute, which appeared to have erupted over a lack of communication with Brussels and French fishers by the Jersey authorities.

“Jersey authorities have a right to regulate fisheries in their waters under this agreement and we support them in exercising those rights. We will work with Jersey to support the discussions under way with the European Commission,” said the spokesperson.

The rapprochement on both sides of the Channel ended 12 hours of drama on the seas, starting at 4.30am when a flotilla of French boats started to amass off the coast of Jersey.

In a peaceful protest, marred only by the one ramming incident, they entered the harbour at St Helier in a sea of red flare smoke at 7am, briefly trapping a cargo boat, before retreating to a distant position enabling freight vessels to continue their business.

Boat-to-boat crisis talks at noon between the French fishers and a delegation from Jersey’s government ended the six-hour standoff but did not deliver the breakthrough needed.

“It’s rubbish, I’m sorry,” said Cyril Piraud, one fisher who was part of the delegation onboard the Normandy Trader, a large vessel loaned by a Jersey fisher for the talks.

“I’m not sure why we even went to see them. They are putting all the blame on the French government, who they say did not provide them with the right information. If we do nothing, we’re going to end up being squeezed out, little by little. This can only be sorted out on dry land now. The [French] minister has to carry out her threats.”

Earlier, Johnson reiterated his “unequivocal support” for the Jersey government in a phone call to the chief minister of the island, John Le Fondré, his deputy and Ian Gorst, the external affairs minister.

At that point the tensions had flared in an apparent tit-for-tat development, in which France also sent two of its gendarmerie patrol boats, PCG Athos and PCG Themis, to the area to “monitor the situation and guarantee the safety of people at sea”.

But fishers were sanguine, believing the show of strength on both sides had served its purpose in drawing attention to poor Brexit dividends.

The head of the local fishers’ association, Don Thomson, said he was “confident” the Jersey government would not capitulate but pointed out Jersey fishers had also lost out in the Brexit deal with scallop fishers having to “leave the industry” because of the EU ban on live shellfish that flowed from Johnson’s sovereignty-first hard Brexit.

HMS Tamar and HMS Severn (blue icons) observe the flotilla of French boats entering the port at St Helier
HMS Tamar and HMS Severn (blue icons) observe the flotilla of French boats entering the port at St Helier Photograph: Marine Traffic website

“The show of force is over, now it’s politics that has to pick up the baton,” said Dimitri Rogoff, the president of the fishing association in the French region of Normandy.

The dispute centres on post-Brexit fishing licences issued by the Jersey government on Friday, which brought new conditions limiting the number of days and gear permitted for fishing.

Brussels said this amounted to a breach of the Brexit trade and cooperation (TCA) deal, which required advance warning of new conditions on fishing.

“Under the EU-UK TCA, any proposed management conditions have to be notified in advance to the other party, giving them sufficient time to assess and react to the proposed measures,” it said.

“The commission has clearly indicated to the UK that the provisions of the EU-UKTCA have not been respected. Until the UK authorities provide further justifications on the new conditions, these new conditions should not apply.

• This article was amended on 6 May 2021. HMS Severn and Tamar are classed as patrol vessels, not gunboats as previously stated.

Contributors

Lisa O'Carroll, Jon Henley and Daniel Boffey

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
What is behind the dispute over fishing rights around Jersey?
British navy patrol boats, protesting French fishers and Brexit – a summary of the escalating row

Daniel Boffey in Brussels

06, May, 2021 @11:17 AM

Article image
France warns UK of ‘retaliation’ as Jersey braces for blockade in fishing row
Channel island’s government rejected third of French boats and ordered them out of its waters within 30 days

Daniel Boffey in Brussels

29, Sep, 2021 @9:48 PM

Article image
‘We’re piggy in the middle’: Brexit has made life impossible, say Jersey fishers
Their families have been fishing here for decades but despite promises of frictionless trade, the market for their fish is disappearing

Steven Morris in St Helier, Jersey

07, May, 2021 @1:10 PM

Article image
Jersey issues 49 more fishing licences to French boats amid row
Officials from France and UK to meet in Brussels after threats from both sides in post-Brexit dispute

Jamie Grierson and Rowena Mason

01, Nov, 2021 @3:23 PM

Article image
France threatens to cut off power to Jersey in post-Brexit fishing row
French minister raises electricity supply as point of leverage in dispute over access to UK waters

Daniel Boffey in Brussels

04, May, 2021 @5:51 PM

Article image
France threatens to cut UK and Jersey energy supply in fishing row
French government pushing EU to take stronger stance in dispute over access to Channel waters

Daniel Boffey in Brussels

05, Oct, 2021 @5:33 PM

Article image
French fishers’ protest over Jersey rights is over but the dispute will go on
New restrictions and deep cuts to allowances mean both French and Jersey boat owners feel betrayed by Brexit

Jon Henley, Lisa O'Carroll and Steven Morris in St Helier

06, May, 2021 @5:08 PM

Article image
PM vows to hit back if France breaks post-Brexit fishing agreement
No 10 threatens retaliation against French measures including port ban on British fishing boats

Daniel Boffey in Brussels

28, Oct, 2021 @5:42 AM

Article image
Jersey row: fishing leader says French threats ‘close to act of war’
Don Thompson says response from France is ‘like something you would see from Iran or Russia’

Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent

06, May, 2021 @7:44 AM

Article image
UK sends navy vessels to Jersey amid post-Brexit fishing row with France
Boris Johnson dispatches two patrol vessels to protect island from feared blockade

Daniel Boffey and Lisa O'Carroll

05, May, 2021 @7:52 PM