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.
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.
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.
— Tristan Redman (@TristanAJE) May 6, 2021
“It’s incredible to have succeeded in getting everyone together,” fisherman Camille Lecureuil told AFP onboard his boat.
French fishers chattering on radio about whether to push their protest further. Consensus is no. They agree to turn around and make space for a ferry to leave the port #Jersey pic.twitter.com/mSLs11DmeJ
— Tristan Redman (@TristanAJE) May 6, 2021
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.
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.”
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.