The European Union has sided with France in the Jersey Island fishing dispute, accusing the Johnson government of breaching the post-Brexit EU-UK trade pact that was hammered out late last year.
“On 30 April, the Commission was notified by the UK authorities of granting 41 licenses to the EU vessels in Jersey territorial waters from 1 May,” European Commission Spokesperson Vivian Loonela said in a press conference in Brussels on Thursday.
“But there were additional conditions set to these licenses. We have, following the receiving of this, indicated to the UK that we see that the provisions of the EU/UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, that we recently agreed, have not been met there, have not been respected,” Loonela suggested.
She stressed that under the treaty’s terms, which demand that any move to limit EU fishing activities near UK waters be fair and non-discriminatory, Brussels considers “that these new conditions should not apply.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressed London’s “unwavering support” for Jersey on Wednesday, warning Paris that “any blockade” of the island by French fishing boats would be “completely unjustified” and announcing the deployment of a pair of gunboats to the area as a “precautionary measure.”
Paris responded by deploying a pair of its own patrol boats to Jersey’s coast as dozens of French trawlers gathered off the island’s main port of St. Helier, saying the deployment was meant to “ensure the protection of human life at sea.”
France’s Foreign Ministry expressed Paris’s desire to "rapidly defuse" tensions with the UK amid the fishing row on Thursday, saying the dispute could be resolved only via the full implementation of the post-Brexit trade pact. A day before, French authorities sided with the fishermen, saying Jersey’s rules were arbitrary and “completely unacceptable” and warning “retaliatory measures” including the shutoff of the island’s access to the French power grid, which accounts for the vast majority of the island’s electricity, were possible.
Also on Thursday, London said it would work with Jersey to support ongoing discussions with the European Commission regarding the dispute, and indicated that it had recalled the Navy vessels to the island.
What’s the Dispute About?
The Jersey fishing dispute centres around the island’s new fishing rules for foreign trawlers, with the British dependency putting a new permit system into effect after an amnesty period agreed in the trade deal ran out after 30 April. Some French fishermen are protesting the new permit system after apparently misunderstanding its rules and being denied licenses to fish off Jersey’s waters, despite fishing in the area for years beforehand. Forty-one French boats had applied for licenses by last Friday, with as many as 17 reportedly unable to provide evidence to continue fishing in the waters.
The standoff has reportedly remained mostly peaceful, although footage of at least one Jersey non-commercial vessel being rammed by a French trawler has appeared online.
In a separate incident, a member of the Jersey Militia reenactment group in a tricorn hat was filmed firing a musket toward French boats from the island’s Elizabeth Castle.
A member of the Jersey Militia reenactment group was seen firing on the French boats with a musket from Elizabeth Castle this morning.— ITV News Channel TV (@ITVChannelTV) May 6, 2021
It's after the flotilla of French fishermen who blockaded Jersey's main harbour returned to open water.https://t.co/0nY4Kja6uw pic.twitter.com/rQQ4yPHvxd