U.K. Sends Navy Patrol Ships to Jersey After French Threats
(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. has sent two military patrol vessels to the British isle of Jersey ahead of a potential blockade by French fishermen, as a row with France over post-Brexit fishing rights deepened.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke with Jersey’s political leaders on Wednesday and said any blockade would be “unjustified,” according to a statement from the U.K. government. France responded by dispatching its own naval observation vessel, the Athos, to the area, after previously threatening to cut off electricity supplies to Jersey in protest at a lack of licenses for its fishermen.
The British patrol ships are of a type that is generally armed with 20mm and 30mm guns and can carry 45 crew with as many as 50 Royal Marines, according to the Ministry of Defence website. The two vessels are being sent as a precautionary measure, the U.K. said.
The French government is following the situation closely and is in touch with the British, according to a French diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The prime minister and chief minister stressed the urgent need for a de-escalation in tensions and for dialog between Jersey and France on fishing access,” the U.K. statement said.
Deployment of the ships marks a striking intensification of the spat between two NATO allies and is a sign of the ongoing frictions caused by Britain’s departure from the European Union. Negotiations over fish were one of the most contentious elements of the post-Brexit accord, and France has separately threatened to limit access for U.K. financial services companies into the EU if its fishing boats aren’t treated fairly.
Tensions rose earlier this week after France’s maritime minister, Annick Girardin, said she was “revolted” when she heard that Jersey had granted fishing licenses that included extra conditions and criteria which were not compliant with the Brexit deal. Girardin said she had flagged the non-compliance to the European Commission.
“We’re ready to resort to retaliatory measures” that are in the Brexit accord, she told lawmakers in the National Assembly on Tuesday.
The European Commission has notified the U.K. that the way it has imposed additional restrictions on French fishermen leaves it in breach of the Brexit trade deal, commission spokeswoman Vivian Loonela said Wednesday night.
Jersey has insisted the island had issued the licenses in accordance with the U.K.’s trade and cooperation agreement with the EU which means French boats must demonstrate a track record of having fished in the area.
Chief Minister John Le Fondré and Minister for External Relations Ian Gorst said in a joint statement that they are expecting a peaceful demonstration from French fishermen outside the island’s main harbor on Thursday.
“We welcome the ongoing support from the prime minister and U.K. government to achieve a diplomatic solution to this dispute, and we are aware that the U.K. are sending two offshore patrol vessels as a precautionary measure to monitor the situation in Jersey waters,” they said. “Jersey’s essential infrastructure will not be disrupted as local facilities are able to meet our power requirements in the event of any external interruption.”
Jersey is a self-governing British crown dependency 14 miles (22 kilometers) from the French coast, which makes its own laws and raises its own taxes, but relies on the U.K. government for defense.
The growing spat with France comes ahead of a “Super Thursday” of elections in the U.K., where a slew of polls will be held, including for 143 English councils, the Scottish and Welsh parliaments and the mayor of London. The parliamentary district of Hartlepool is also up for grabs.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.