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Fishing protests: French police vessels deployed to Jersey as UK sends gunboats

Two French police vessels were deployed to Jersey as French fishermen staged a protest over fishing licences - and the UK government sent two navy vessels to the area.

Fishing protests: French police vessels deployed to Jersey as UK sends gunboats
French fishing boats protest in front of the port of Saint Helier off the British island of Jersey. Photo: Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP

Around 50 French fishing gathered to protest at the main port of the UK island of Jersey on Thursday morning amid fresh tensions between France and Britain.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday sent two Navy patrol vessels to Jersey “as a precautionary measure” over concerns that French fishermen could blockade its main port in an escalating post-Brexit row.

Two French vessels were also sent to the area – one from the coastal gendarmerie and one from the administrative Affaires Maritimes departments.

Neither of the French vessels were carrying weapons and they were there “guaranteeing the safeguarding of human life” in case rescues are necessary, said the Préfet maritime de la zone Manche-Mer du Nord, the local authority which authorised the deployment.

READ MORE: ‘We’re ready for war’ – How far will France’s post-Brexit fishing row with Jersey go?

After staging a blockade of the harbour, the French fishing vessels began to depart in the early afternoon, with The fishermen began departing from Jersey waters in the early afternoon of Thursday, with fisherman Ludovic Lazaro saying: “Now it’s up to the ministers to work it out. We won’t be able to do much more.”

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

France’s Europe Minister Clément Beaune said on Thursday that the British manoeuvres “should not impress us” adding: “I have spoken to David Frost, the British minister for relations with the European Union. Our desire is not to maintain tensions but to have a rapid and complete application of the agreement. Nothing but the agreement and the whole agreement.”

The French fishing boats massed in front of the port of Saint Helier to draw attention to what they see as unfair restrictions on their ability to fish in UK waters after Brexit, an AFP photographer at the scene said.

They say the post-Brexit fishing licenses they have been issues with contain restrictions not referenced in the agreement.

READ ALSO Why are French fishermen so angry about their post-Brexit licences?

Jersey, a self-governing British Crown dependency off the coast of France, has said it will require boats to submit further details before the licences can be granted, and pleaded for patience.

“It’s incredible to have succeeded in getting everyone together,” fisherman Camille Lecureuil told AFP onboard his boat.

The deepening row over fishing is one of several disputes that have emerged between the UK and the European Union since London left the bloc’s single market and customs union at the start of the year.

France warned on Tuesday it was weighing its response after the island of Jersey imposed rules governing access for French fishing boats near the islands, and said it could involve the electricity supply via underwater cables.

French maritime minister Annick Girardin accused Jersey, the largest Channel Island, of dragging its feet over the issuing of licences to French vessels under the terms of Britain’s post-Brexit trade deal with Brussels.

HMS Severn is one of the two offshore patrol vessels that will monitor the Jersey waters. Photo: Glyn KIRK / AFP

British MP Tobias Ellwood accused France of “shameful behaviour,” saying “it would be wise to dispatch” a Royal Navy vessel.

PM Boris Johnson spoke to Jersey Chief Minister John Le Fondre on Wednesday, when the pair “stressed the urgent need for a de-escalation in tensions,” according to a statement from Downing Street.

“The Prime Minister underlined his unwavering support for Jersey,” it added.

A spokesman for Johnson’s government earlier called threats over Jersey’s electricity supply “unacceptable and disproportionate.”

ANALYSIS: ‘We’re ready for war’ – How far will France’s post-Brexit fishing row with Jersey go?

‘Optimistic’

Jersey External Affairs Minister Ian Gorst told BBC Radio on Wednesday: “It would seem disproportionate to cut off electricity for the sake of needing to provide extra details so that we can refine the licences.

“I do think a solution can be found. I am optimistic that we can provide extra time to allow this evidence to be provided.”

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 Thursday morning, around 100 French fishing vessels will sail to Jersey port to protest over the issuing of the licences, the head of fisheries for the Normandy region, Dimitri Rogoff, told AFP.

Rogoff said however that they would not try to blockade the port and would return to France in the afternoon.

In the latest move, Britain on Friday authorised 41 French ships equipped with Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) technology – which allows ships to be located – to fish in waters off Jersey.

But this list was accompanied by new demands which France’s fisheries ministry has said were not arranged or discussed with Paris, effectively creating new zoning rules for the waters near Jersey.

UK government minister Nadhim Zahawi said the two sides need to work “constructively” on “operational challenges that we need to fix together”.

“This is an issue for the (European) Commission to work with our team,” he told Sky News.

Member comments

  1. A couple of deep water trawlers will soon see off the gunboats like they did around Iceland in the cod wars.

  2. If the UK licensing process is wrong / unfair, how come there’s no complaint from the Dutch, Spanish, Irish etc. ?

    1. How do you know that there’s no complaints from other EU countries? The British media is notoriously anti-French and just loves to deride France at every opportunity. It’s curious that they’re not so keen to concentrate on Boris’s inability to stick to the agreements that he’s signed with the EU and is forever trying to weasel out of the conditions that he’s agreed to.

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POLITICS

Who is Élisabeth Borne, France’s new PM?

Elisabeth Borne, who is taking the reins of President Emmanuel Macron's government as the first female prime minister in over 30 years, is an experienced technocrat who enjoys the full confidence of the French leader.

Who is Élisabeth Borne, France's new PM?

The 61-year-old engineer proved her loyalty to Macron during his first term, serving as transport, environment and finally labour minister from 2020.

Borne is known for handling controversial transport and benefits reforms, which will be seen as a mighty advantage as Macron seeks to push through a highly-contested bid to raise France’s retirement age during his second mandate.

Borne will seek to make a greater impact than France’s first female prime minister Edith Cresson, who lasted less than a year in the early 1990s.

Macron had indicated he wanted a woman with left-wing and environmental credentials, and Borne ticked many boxes.

The president promised before the runoff vote in presidential elections in April to put the climate crisis at the heart of his second term and to task his prime minister with “ecological planning”.

As labour minister during the Covid-19 pandemic, Borne backed a range of measures to boost employment of the younger generation.

Borne, who is said to discreetly vape at the National Assembly parliament, was regularly on television at the height of the pandemic to remind the French to work from home and to defend the government’s job retention scheme.

Hospitalised due to the virus in March 2021, she was administered oxygen, an experience she described as nerve-wracking.

‘A real technocrat’

Far from being an extrovert figure who could overshadow the president in any way, she is a safe pair of hands who Macron can trust at a delicate time.

“She’s a real technocrat,” said a union source who asked not to be named.

And in the corridors of the ministries where she served, it is said she was nicknamed “Borne out” for her supposed harshness towards her collaborators, a play on words with “burn out”.

France’s second-ever female prime minister was born in Paris and studied at the elite Ecole Polytechnique.

According to an April survey by the Ifop pollster, 45 percent of people polled did not know who she was.

Little is known about her private life, apart from that she was born to a father who died when she was young and to a mother with very little income.

A lover of maths, Borne has said she finds in numbers “something quite reassuring, quite rational”.

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