Brexit

Jersey Brexit standoff eases as French fishing boats withdraw

Tensions over fishing rights have escalated between France and Britian, with around 50 French fishing boats gathering in protest near the Channel island of Jersey
Tensions over fishing rights have escalated between France and Britian, with around 50 French fishing boats gathering in protest near the Channel island of Jersey Sameer Al-DOUMY AFP

French fishing boats have withdrawn from the British island of Jersey after a protest over post-Brexit fishing rights that led to a brief standoff between British navy and French coastal patrol boats.

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In the latest cross-Channel standoff, angry French fishermen protested on Thursday over new fish license arrangements on the Channel island of Jersey following Britain's departure from the European Union.

At dawn, a flotilla of around 50 trawlers amassed in front of the Saint Helier harbour.

Fears of a blockade prompted British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to send two royal navy vessels to the area on Wednesday. Early Thursday, France sending two of its own coast patrol vessels.

French fishing boats massed Thursday at the main port at Saint Helier, on the Channel island of Jersey
French fishing boats massed Thursday at the main port at Saint Helier, on the Channel island of Jersey Sameer Al-DOUMY AFP

'Urgent need for de-escalation'

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.

In the run up to Thursday's protest, French fishermen had complained about new licensing requirements announced by Jersey authorities.

They view the paperwork as deliberately obstructing them -- the same charge made by other French boat owners who have denounced delays in the licensing process for access to British territorial waters.

French fishing fleet is seen at the entrance to the harbour in St Helier, Jersey May 6, 2021.
French fishing fleet is seen at the entrance to the harbour in St Helier, Jersey May 6, 2021. MARC LE CORNU via REUTERS - MARC LE CORNU

At the end of last month, more than a hundred French fishermen briefly blocked trucks carrying British fish to processing plants in the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer.

'Unacceptable'

French Maritime Minister Annick Girardin escalated tensions with Jersey on Tuesday by warning that France could cut off electricity supplies to the island, a threat condemned by the British government as "unacceptable".

But Europe Minister Beaune accused Britain of being to blame for the spat over Jersey and access to waters close to the UK coast where French fishermen should have the right to continue working.

"Our wish is not to have tensions, but to have a quick and full application of the (Brexit) deal," he told AFP.

"That's the case for Jersey and that's the case for the licences we are waiting for in the Hauts de France" region.

One of the French patrol boats deployed to the area was from the gendarme military police force, the other was a coastal security vessel operated by the maritime ministry.

Old rivalry

The escalating tensions landed on the front pages of most British newspapers.

"Boris sends gunboats into Jersey," read a Daily Mail headline, while The Daily Telegraph said Johnson had sent the navy to the island to "face the French".

On social media, some pointed out that the standoff was taking place just a day after the 200th anniversary of the death of Napoleon, whose rivalry with the UK crown was legendary.

Mujtaba Rahman, an analyst from the Eurasia Group consultancy, wrote that Johnson's decision to deploy the royal navy would give him a boost on a day when Britons were voting in local and regional elections.

"Although feelings are running high among the fishermen, some concessions over licences is likely to eventually calm matters," he wrote.

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