Tuesday, July 16

Royal Navy to stay on patrol in Jersey, says PM as fishing row escalates

A fleet of French fishing boats descended on Jersey after threatening to blockade the island’s main port over a post-Brexit fishing rights row.

The UK has sent two Royal Navy ships to Jersey as a precaution HMS Severn and HMS Tamar are patrolling the waters around Jersey.

And French authorities have confirmed to Sky News that a vessel, the Military Ops ship Athos, will be arriving imminently to carry out a patrol mission while local reports suggest another is also en route.

The deployment, France says, is to guarantee the safety of people at sea and accompany the flotilla of around 50 French fishing vessels that had been protesting off St Helier over a lack of access to waters around the Channel island.

Downing Street confirmed Boris Johnson spoke to the chief minister of Jersey, Senator John Le Fondre, the deputy chief minister, Lyndon Farnham and external affairs minister, Ian Gorst, on Thursday and reiterated his unequivocal support.

A spokesperson said: The chief minister updated the prime minister on the latest developments with French fishing vessels around Jersey’s coast.

The prime minister reiterated his unequivocal support for Jersey and confirmed that the two Royal Navy offshore patrol vessels would remain in place to monitor the situation as a precautionary measure. They agreed to stay in touch as the situation develops.

An official from the French presidency said they were keen that the situation does not worsen. France views the situation in Jersey as being calm, they said, but added that the UK’s language on the matter had aggravated tensions.

The European Commission, meanwhile, has said it is engaging in good faith with the UK as to how to solve the fishing dispute. It said the terms of the EU-UK trade deal are not being met in waters off the coast of Jersey, due to the conditions imposed on licences for French fishing boats there.

The map below, taken from marinetraffic.com just before 7am, showed the French boats (in orange) heading towards the harbour then later massing near Elizabeth Castle, while the UK ships (light blue) appeared to be holding back. From around 1.30pm the vast majority of the vessels could be seen turning around and appeared to be leaving the area.

Don Thompson, president of Jersey Fishermen’s Association, said French fishermen had made their point during discussions with government officials. French fishermen said they would blockade the main port of St Helier to prevent supplies from being delivered.

Mr Gorst said the French had made clear their frustration over the new Brexit trade deal. He said tensions are running high and the precautionary action by the Royal Navy has so far worked.

He told Sky News: We have had disproportionate threats emanating from Paris and a potential blockade of our main harbour and those threats we take seriously to protect Jersey’s interests.

France has accused the UK of using red tape to limit fishing around Jersey, in breach of the Brexit agreement made with the EU last year, and said it is ready to use these retaliation measures.

With regards to Jersey, I would remind you, for example, of electricity transmission by underwater cable. So, we have the means, French maritime minister Annick Girardin said.

The UK’s environment and food secretary George Eustice said the row was about 17 French fishing vessels that have failed to provide the data needed for Jersey to grant them a licence to fish in its waters.