French Fishing Boats Begin Leaving Jersey Waters: Brexit Update

French fishermen are leaving the British isle of Jersey and ending their protest over post-Brexit fishing rights, after the U.K. and France sent military patrol ships to the area.

Representatives of the fishing fleet, who are upset at the conditions attached to licenses needed to operate in the area, said they had made their point and will be heading back to France.

Two British military ships were deployed Wednesday night to the island ahead of a potential blockade by the fishing boats, in what the U.K. called a precautionary measure. France said it sent two vessels Thursday morning to guarantee the safety of everyone at sea.

The issue of fishing rights was one of the most contentious elements of the post-Brexit accord, and the deployment of the ships is the latest sign of friction between the two NATO allies following Britain’s exit from the European Union. Because of the license dispute, France on Tuesday threatened to cut off power to Jersey, saying the U.K. had breached the terms of the trade deal. The EU Commission on Thursday agreed that had been the case.

French Fishing Boats Begin Leaving Jersey Waters: Brexit Update

Key Developments:

  • Brussels says the U.K. breached conditions of the post-Brexit trade deal; U.K. disputes this
  • French fishing boats begin to leave Jersey waters
  • The Pentagon urged the NATO allies to resolve their dispute
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke with Jersey’s political leaders on Thursday to reiterate his “unequivocal support” for the island, a self-governing dependency of the British crown that relies on the U.K. for defense
  • Representatives from Jersey’s government met with some French fishermen
  • The French government is in touch with the British, according to a French diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity

(All times are U.K.)

U.K. Official Denies Brexit Deal Broken (3:20 p.m.)

The U.K. rejected the EU claim that the Brexit trade agreement had been breached. Jersey acted within the framework of the deal, a British official said.

If French fishermen or ministers have difficulties they should use the dispute resolution mechanism instead of making threats or attempting to blockade a foreign port, the official said.

Brussels Says U.K. Breached Trade Deal (14:10 p.m.)

“On the 30th of April, the Commission was notified by the U.K authorities of granting 41 licenses to the EU vessels who are fishing in Jersey territorial waters from the 1st of May. But there were additional conditions set to these licenses,” said commission spokeswoman Vivian Loonela. The EU’s response was that the conditions of the post-Brexit trade deal “have not been respected” she told reporters in Brussels.

“We are continuing our discussions with the U.K, we call for calm in the situation and we are doing what is foreseen in the agreement” the EU Commission’s spokesman said.

The post-Brexit deal has a “robust” mechanism to resolve disputes, the EU said. The first step is discussions with the U.K, which are currently ongoing. The second stage, if discussions fail, is independent arbitration, and if one of the parties doesn’t comply with the arbitration, then proportionate retaliation is foreseen. Despite repeated questions, the Commission declined to comment on whether it sees the threat to cut off electricity to Jersey as proportionate and appropriate.

French Fisherman Planning to Go Home Thursday Night (13:37 p.m.)

“It was a symbolic action to show our muscle and determination,” said Jean-Luc Hall, head of the National Fishing Committee in France.

The fishermen haven’t been blockading anything and have been protesting peacefully, according to Philippe Orveillon, vice-president of a local Fishing Committee. He said the presence of the U.K. and French patrol boats isn’t disproportionate as “provocations can lead to skirmishes.”

Both men said the fishermen will heading back to France on Thursday. But, Hall added, “if things aren’t quickly solved, they’ll do it again.”

French Fishing Boats Begin Leaving Jersey Waters: Brexit Update

Pentagon Urges U.K., France to Resolve Row (13:15 p.m.)

The U.S. Department of Defense was asked whether it supported the British military deployment to Jersey at a press conference.

“The Department of Defense encourages continued dialog to resolve France-U.K. bilateral issues,” Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Anton T. Semelroth, Pentagon spokesman said, according to a transcript. “Both countries are valuable NATO allies.”

French Fishing Boats Begin Leaving Jersey Waters: Brexit Update

French Fisherman Says Protest Is ‘Good-Natured’ (12:30 p.m.)

“This is all good-natured,” Philippe Orveillon, a French fisherman based in Saint-Malo who’s currently on a boats in Jersey, told France Info radio. “We’ve even been joined by two boats from Jersey as fishermen there are also worried about the current situation.”

Johnson Speaks With Jersey’s Leaders (12:19 p.m.)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson held a call with Jersey’s political leaders on Thursday and reiterated his “unequivocal support” for the island, according to a statement from 10 Downing Street.

The two British naval ships will remain in place “to monitor the situation as a precautionary measure,” the statement said.

French Minister Defends Comments That Provoked Backlash (11:50 a.m)

Maritime minister Annick Girardin said she stands by comments she made on Tuesday, when she threatened that France could cut off electricity supplies to the island of Jersey due to a disagreement over licenses for French fishing vessels.

In an emailed statement, Girardin said the Brexit accord between the EU and Britain includes a possible retaliatory measure “related to our agreement on energy” if the deal isn’t respected. She also said it’s up to the EU Commission to make sure the accord is enforced.

At the same time, Girardin said that taking such a punitive step would be “extreme” and that she wanted good relations with Jersey.

French Fishing Boats Begin Leaving Jersey Waters: Brexit Update

European Commission Calls for Restraint, Calm (11:20 a.m.)

The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, appealed for tensions to be defused.

“Of course we follow the situation and obviously we call for restraint and for calm, and for discussing the issue at stake between the two stakeholders calmly,” spokesperson Dana Spinant told reporters at a daily briefing in Brussels.

French Official Surprised by Report on Energy Links (11:15 a.m.)

An official in President Emmanuel Macron’s office expressed surprise and worry after reading a Telegraph newspaper report that the U.K. will review its energy links with France.

“We don’t want the situation to worsen,” the official said, urging British officials to be “responsible” and “not to push fishermen to violence.” London has asked Paris officials to show restraint, according to the official, who asked not to be identified according to government rules.

Elysee Official Talks Down Risks and Threats (11:05 a.m.)

An official in President Emmanuel Macron’s office talked down the threats and the risks on Thursday morning. “The situation is calm and we wish that it remains this way,” the official said.

The Elysee official added that the deployment of the French patrol vessels reflect “the willingness to maintain order” and protect the fishermen. He added that retaliatory measures could be activated via the Brexit accord, but that they would be a last resort.

Jersey Officials Speak With Fishermen (10:50 a.m.)

Representatives from Jersey’s government have met with some of the French fishermen in the island’s harbor.

“We are meeting with French fishing leaders this morning to listen to their concerns regarding fishing rights,” Jersey’s external affairs minister Ian Gorst said in a statement. There are ongoing political and operational efforts “to resolve the current dispute and resume previous good relations,” Gorst said.

France Sends Second Vessel to Jersey Area (10:40 a.m.)

French authorities sent a second patrol boat, the “Themis,” to Jersey to help assure the safety of the fisherman and survey maritime traffic through the zone, a spokeswoman for the regional maritime police, based in Cherbourg, said. The boat joins the “Athos,” which was sent to the area earlier on Thursday. The boats are in French waters, the spokeswoman said.

U.K. to Review French Energy Links After Jersey Row (10:30 a.m.)

The U.K. is set to review its energy links with France following the French threat to cut off Jersey’s power supplies, the Telegraph reports, citing a person in Whitehall familiar with the matter. The person in Whitehall says that the threat was “outrageous” and that the U.K. would be more cautious of France as an energy partner. The U.K. could look to route future giant power cable projects toward the Netherlands.

France Confirms Dispatching a Vessels to Area (10:15 a.m.)

A spokeswoman for the maritime prefecture in Cherbourg confirmed that a coastal patrol boat, called “Athos,” is currently in French waters near the area where the fisherman are “in order to be able to intervene if the situation degenerates.” The patrol boat, carrying French navy personnel, was sent this morning to the zone.

Key Macron Ally Says France Shouldn’t Be Intimidated by U.K. (10:05 a.m.)

French junior minister for European Affairs Clement Beaune, said that France “should not be intimidated” by the U.K. moves. Beaune, a former aide of President Emmanuel Macron, has been taking an aggressive stance toward the U.K. throughout the Brexit negotiations, even trolling Boris Johnson on social media. Beaune, who said France “doesn’t want to fuel tensions,” spoke to David Frost, the U.K. minister in charge of relations with the EU.

Normandy Sea Authority Head Says Region ‘Ready for War’ (10:00 a.m.)

French Fishing Boats Begin Leaving Jersey Waters: Brexit Update

David Sellam, the head of the Normandy-Brittany sea authority, said he believes Jersey has been taken over by an “extremist fringe who want to reduce French fishing access and profit from Brexit”.

The Daily Mail quotes him as saying: “We’re ready for war. We can bring Jersey to its knees if necessary.”

U.K.’s Opposition Lawmaker Calls for Talks (9:50 a.m.)

John Healey MP, Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, commenting on the U.K. sending gunboats to Jersey, said:

“The threats on Jersey are completely unreasonable. The Navy’s experience in sensitive situations will help reassure residents and protect Britain’s broader national interests.

“The British government must now get round the table with French colleagues and authorities in Jersey and sort this issue out.”

French Vessels Heading Back into Harbour Entrance. (9:24 a.m.)

Fishermen speaking over marine radio say that are frustrated that no Government of Jersey representative has come out to speak to them.

France Sends Patrol Vessel to Jersey to “Guarantee Safety” (9:11 a.m.)

French authorities sent a military patrol vessel, Athos, to Jersey to “guarantee the safety” of everyone at sea and “accompany” the French flotilla, Sky News political correspondent Rob Powell reports on Twitter, citing the authorities.

The French ministry of defense and Macron’s office didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

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