‘It is very very tense’: French fishermen angered by UK and Jersey licence refusal

France warned on Wednesday of retaliation in Brussels against the United Kingdom and Jersey over their refusal of many post-Brexit fishing licences, while French trawlermen threatened fresh protests and even an exports blockade.

French fishing boats protest in front of the Jersey port of Saint Helier in May 2021. On Wednesday, Jersey refused applications from 75 French boats to fish in its waters.
French fishing boats protest in front of the Jersey port of Saint Helier in May 2021. On Wednesday, Jersey refused applications from 75 French boats to fish in its waters. Photo: Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP.

Fishing rights for EU boats in UK waters was a key stumbling block to negotiations for a Brexit trade accord between London and Brussels, and threatened to sink the deal.

But the issue has resurfaced after Britain on Tuesday said it would grant just 12 out of 47 applications for new licences for small EU boats to fish in its territorial waters.

On Wednesday, the self-governing British Crown dependency of Jersey refused 75 applications from French boats, and issued 31 temporary licences: 75 bids were accepted.

France’s Europe minister Clement Beaune called the decisions “unacceptable” and said that it demanded an urgent response at both a French and European level.

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said the decisions were “totally unacceptable and inadmissible” and “contravene the agreement that was signed in the framework of Brexit”, threatening retaliation via Brussels.

“We are going to continue and step up our work with the (European) Commission to move forward on this issue, and also to study possible retaliation measures that could be taken if the agreement is not respected,” he added.

READ ALSO French threaten retaliation over refusal of post-Brexit fishing licences

UK-French relations are already strained, with Paris accusing London of going behind its back to sign a new defence deal to provide US-built nuclear-powered submarines to Australia.

Dimitri Rogoff, president of the regional fisheries committee in Normandy, told AFP that fishermen were preparing to protest.

“They are ready to attack (Jersey’s capital) Saint Helier. It is tense, very very tense,” he added.

Olivier Lepretre, president of the regional fisheries committee in the northern Hauts-de-France region, added: “There comes a time when we must put pressure on the British side.”

He suggested the fishermen had the “port of Calais in their sights”, raising the possibility of a blockade on the key gateway for goods travelling from mainland Europe to Britain.

‘Reasonable approach’

In Jersey, which sets the terms of fishing in its waters under the Brexit deal agreed last year, all unlicensed boats must stop fishing in its waters within 30 days, although it will still accept and consider new evidence to support bids.

“By issuing these licences in the days ahead, we are ensuring the fishing effort in our waters is similar to pre-Brexit,” said the Channel island’s Environment Minister John Young.

“Those boats with an economic dependence on Jersey waters, who’ve fished here regularly before and have demonstrated it, will receive licences.”

In refusing licenses on Tuesday, the UK government insisted it had pursued a “reasonable approach”, issuing a total of nearly 1,700 licences to boats from the bloc to fish in Britain’s exclusive economic zone, which is defined as being 12-200 nautical miles from the coast.

But French Maritime Minister Annick Girardin called it “a new British refusal to apply the conditions” of the Brexit agreement struck by London and Brussels.

Stormy protests by French trawlers over fishing rights in Jersey erupted earlier this year and even threatened to turn into a full-blown naval incident.

As French trawlers steamed towards the capital Saint Helier, London sent two naval patrol boats to monitor the situation, prompting Paris to respond in kind.

In a bid to calm tempers, a three-month extension was agreed for EU boats to fish in Jersey waters. That expires this week, although vessels will still be able to operate for the next month.

Neighbouring Guernsey, which also implements fishing rules in its waters, on Wednesday announced a “roadmap” to issuing licences to French vessels, with the grace period extended until January while the decisions are made.

Before Britain left the bloc, boats from EU countries were allowed to fish in British waters subject to agreed quotas on what they could catch.

Member comments

    1. It’s funny how even the Soviets through the Cold War never threatened energy supplies – it takes a real ‘friend and partner’ to do that.

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France says all troops left Mali, ending nine-year military mission

The last soldiers belonging to France's Barkhane operation in Mali have now left the African country, the French chiefs of staff said on Monday.

France says all troops left Mali, ending nine-year military mission

French forces have been supporting Mali against insurgents for nearly a decade, but President Emmanuel Macron decided to pull out after France and the Malian junta fell out in the wake of a military takeover.

“Today at 13H00 Paris time (1100 GMT) the final contingent of the Barkhane force still on Malian territory crossed the border between Mali and Niger,” the statement said.

The army had met the “major military logistics challenge” of the pull-out “in an orderly and safe fashion”, it added.

After ties ruptured between Paris and the junta that took power in Mali in August 2020, France began to withdraw its troops in February, as jihadist violence surged in the Sahel.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Why were French soldiers in Mali?

Friction developed over the junta’s delays in restoring civilian rule and escalated when Mali brought in Russian paramilitaries — personnel described by France as “mercenaries” from the pro-Kremlin Wagner group.

‘Prevented caliphate’

Macron on Monday congratulated the military on its nine years in Mali, saying it had “prevented the establishment of a territorial caliphate, and fought against terrorists that attack local populations and threaten Europe”. 

Most high-ranking members of the “terrorist groups” had been “neutralised”, he said, adding that 59 French soldiers had died in Mali in total.

More than 2,000 civilians have been killed in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso since the start of the year, according to an AFP tally based on the findings of non-governmental organisation ACLED.

In this file photo taken on December 07, 2021 shows the French flag and France-led special operations logo for the new Task Force Takuba, a multinational military mission in sub-Saharan Africa’s troubled Sahel region. (Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP)

BACKGROUND: France announces withdrawal of troops from Mali

At its peak, France’s Barkhane mission had 5,100 troops among five Sahel allies, all former French colonies — Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

The forces have provided key support in air power, troop transport and reconnaissance. France has an air base in Niger’s capital Niamey where it has deployed drones.

After the Malian pullout, the mission will have “around 2,500” troops, Barkhane commander General Laurent Michon said last month.

The reconfigured mission will emphasise “more cooperative operations,” he said.

Frontline Niger

France will keep more than 1,000 men in Niger, where a tactical group will continue to work in partnership with the Nigerien forces.

Niger is a frontline state in the fight against jihadism as the unstable region struggles with a string of military coups.

“The democratic regression in West Africa is extremely worrying,” French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told French MPs ahead of a trip to the region in July. 

“However, in spite of these events (and) the withdrawal from Mali, France will continue to help West African armies fight terrorist groups.”

Niger is one of the biggest recipients of French aid, receiving 143 million euros ($146 million) last year.

READ ALSO: France calls Mali’s exit from defence accords ‘unjustified’

The two sides will sign agreements for a French loan of 50 million euros and a grant of 20 million euros.

Niger, the world’s poorest country by the benchmark of the UN’s Human Development Index, has been badly hit by the jihadist insurgency that began in northern Mali in 2012 and then swept to neighbouring countries.

Niger is facing insurgencies both on its western border with Mali and Burkina Faso and on its south-eastern frontier with Nigeria.

More than a thousand troops will be deployed in Niger, providing air support and training, according to French sources.

French troops are also in Gabon, Ivory Coast and Senegal, as well as in the east of Africa, in Djibouti.

READ ALSO: Macron agrees to return Benin sculptures ‘without delay’

Macron in June asked the government and military chiefs “to rethink our overall presence on the African continent by the autumn.”

He called for “a presence that is less static and less exposed” and “a closer relationship” with African armed forces.