Reading Time: 8 minutes

Brexit: UK sends Navy vessels to Jersey amid fishing row with France

  • France threaten to cut off electricity to Jersey in the latest post-Brexit fishing row
  • UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson dispatches Royal Navy gunships to Jersey
  • Downing Street describes the France-Jersey fishing row as “unacceptable provocations”
  • The UK stresses the urgent need for a de-escalation of tensions between the nations

France shamed by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who hit back at threats to cut the underground electricity supply off to Jersey in the latest post-Brexit fishing row.

Earlier this week, French fishers threatened to plunge Jersey into darkness over new post-Brexit rules stating that they must apply for new licenses to fish in British waters.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that threats to take retaliatory action by pulling the plug on Jersey’s electricity are “unacceptable provocations” and stressed the urgent need for a de-escalation in tensions and France and Jersey to open dialogue to resolve the issue.

Witnesses have described some astonishing scenes on the island, with one likening the events unfolding at the St. Helier port to “an invasion.”

So, could the latest fiasco over fishing rights result in Jersey’s electricity getting cut off?

UK sends Navy vessels to Jersey harbour

France said it is prepared to take the UK to war

Paris has accused the UK government of using red tape to hinder fishing levels around Jersey after more than a dozen French fishing vessels failed to provide data required to sanction a licence permitting them to catch fish in Jersey waters.

Head of the Normandy-Brittany sea authority, David Sellam, was quoted saying “we’re ready for war and can bring Jersey to its knees if necessary.”

Mr Sellam went on to say that he is convinced that the Channel island is being controlled by an “extremist fringe who are denying French fishers’ access to profit from Brexit.”

One senior government official said he was taken aback by the comments but implied that this type of behaviour was typical from the French, “anytime the EU faces difficulty they use threats as a first resort.”

“Instead of taking retaliatory action, the French should be using the mechanisms of the new Brexit treaty to resolve any issues they have – that’s exactly why the Treaty was created.”

It comes as witnesses at the St. Helier port tallied a total of 100 small French boats on the choppy waters this morning, with French fishermen lighting flares, hoisting flags and waving banners in protest.

French Maritime Minister Annick Girardin hit back at comments shaming France, warning that “France has the means to take retaliatory action; it’s written in the deal.”

Mr Giradin proceeded to remind the UK that “with regards to Jersey, we have the means to stop the electricity transmission via the underground cable.”

He added that while it would be regrettable, it’s an action France is prepared to take if Britain continues to stall the issuing of licenses.

France continues to throw accusations at the UK despite Britain authorising 41 French boats to fish in Jersey’s waters last Friday.

However, French officials insist that they were completely unaware of the new demands that came with the authorisation as Britain failed to notify, discuss or arrange this with Paris beforehand.

Nonetheless, UK government officials have said that France’s response is too extreme, with one Downing Street spokeswoman stating, “threatening Jersey like this is unacceptable and disproportionate.”

Meanwhile, Jersey’s External Relations Minister, Ian Gorst, said the severe measures are unjustified.

Ian Gorst told the BBC: “This is one of many threats France has made against the UK since the Brexit treaty.”

Mr Gorst added: “It is not that we don’t want to give French fishermen access to our waters, we just need them to provide evidence showing that they have fished in our water historically. To make threats to cut off Jersey’s electricity transmission by providing extra details for British authorities to refine licenses seems disproportionate.”

However, Mr Gorst told the Guardian that while the threat to the island’s electricity is severe, the more imminent danger is a blockade, which looks very likely at this point.

Ian Gorst highlighted that France had formed a harbour blockade with Jersey’s neighbouring Channel island, Guernsey, in the past, so it was important for Britain to prepare for that possibility.

Speaking to the Guardian on Wednesday, Mr Gorst said: “We have got contingency emergency committees on standby in case that possibility materialises.”

Amid fears that the dozens of French boats on Jersey’s waters could result in a blockade, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson dispatched two Royal Navy fleets to protect the harbour.

Royal Navy gunships

The UK sends Navy vessels amid blockade harbour fears

With tensions between France and the UK escalating, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson sent navy vessels to Jersey’s main port to protect the island.

French President Emmanuel Macron responded by dispatching a military boat towards the St Helier harbour for a stand-off with the Royal Navy vessels, monitoring the situation on Jersey’s waters.

Paris officials said the military vessel was sent to “guarantee the safety” of French fishermen and “accompany” the small fleet of French fishing vessels occupying the waters to protest over demands to apply for new fishing licenses.

The Athos approached the Royal Navy vessels HMS Severn and HMS Tamar at full speed despite the British boats being superior and power and size, with both ships armed with cannons and machine guns.

HMS Tamar is the larger of the two boats, measuring 295ft and has an additional two miniguns compared to the HMS Severn.

In April 2021, it became the first Royal Navy vessel to be painted in camouflage since WWII, a move designed to make it more difficult for enemies to judge its speed and heading.

Britain decided to dispatch the Navy vessels in the wake of a conversation between the Prime Minister and Jersey’s Chief Minister John Le Fondre. Mr Le Fondre warned Boris Johnson about the movements of French fishermen and said that precautionary measures might need to be taken.

The Chief Minister raised concerns over a possible harbour blockade, and both agreed that dialogue needed to be opened with France to de-escalate tensions between the two neighbouring countries.

One Downing Street spokesman said: Mr Johnson has “underlined his unwavering support for Jersey” amid the post-Brexit fishing fiasco and has described the threats made against the fishing town as “unacceptable provocations.”

Another described threats to turn off Jersey’s energy supply – 95% of which comes from submarine cables from France – over requirements to apply for new fishing licenses as “disproportionate”.

They added: “We are working closely with the EU and Jersey on fisheries access provisions following the end of the transition period, so trust the French will use the mechanisms of our new treaty to solve problems.”

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Tory MP Greg Hands are believed to be engaging in talks with their French counterparts to resolve the issue.

According to recent reports, French officials are also keen to ensure the situation on the Channel does not deteriorate.

However, they view the current situation as calm and believe that the UK has aggravated tensions with the language, they have used to describe the events.

It comes despite camera footage on Sky News revealing that one UK boat was being rammed into by a French ship.

French officials also warned that their Channel Islands’ offices would be closed to the UK, and they will no longer be importing Jersey products into France.

The European Commission has since commented, stating that the EU is “engaging in good faith” with Britain to come to a speedy resolution.