Fury from French mariners and politicians over access to Jersey's waters has escalated into a diplomatic crisis – with the French Maritime Minister even threatening to cut the power to Jersey through the Channel Islands cable. Guernsey Electricity is expected to comment on the developments today.
The island has been accused of adding a number of "unfair" conditions to the permits issued to French vessels of more than 12 metres on Friday - including restrictions on the number of days per year boats can fish in Jersey’s waters and the zones they can visit – without advance notice or discussion.
Jersey's Government has maintained it had acted in line with “legal advice”, “in good faith” and “with due regard to non-discriminatory and scientific principles”.
It said that it hoped to “heal” the relationship with France soon, and was taking the complaints of the French authorities “very seriously” and planned to “respond in full”.
It has raised concerns over Guernsey's electricity supply through The Channel Islands Electricity Grid, with Guernsey Electricity expected to comment on the developments today. Last year, Guernsey imported more than 93% of its electricity, with on-island generators only used as a top-up during peak winter demand and as a back-up when the GJ1 inter-connector needs to be switched off for maintenance.
The defence came around 24 hours after the Regions of Normandy and La Manche fired the first warning shot against Jersey last night.
They said they would be closing their office in Jersey of more than 25 years to demonstrate their “incomprehension and dissatisfaction” with the restrictions, which they claimed had not been raised in any of their “numerous discussions” with External Relations Minister Senator Ian Gorst.
Earlier that day, the Regional Fishing Committees of Normandy and Brittany had called for a ban on Jersey catch being landed in Granville – a measure supported by Granville’s Mayor – and urged French businesses to no longer buy Jersey goods. Some fishermen were also reportedly discussing a possible blockade.
Yesterday afternoon, French Maritime Minister Annick Girardin told the French Parliament that she was “disgusted” to learn of the conditions attached to the new system, and said the country was “ready to use… retaliatory measures” afforded to it under the UK-EU Trade Deal.
This, she suggested, could include pulling the plug on the island’s electricity, which comes to the island from France via undersea cables. Jersey relies on France for around 95% of its supply. “I am sorry if it comes to this, but we will if we have to,” she said.
Jersey Electricity declined to comment on the threat when approached by Express yesterday.
The Deputy Chair of the European Research Group of Tory MPs, David Jones, described Ms Girardin’s threats in the Telegraph as “straightforward demanding money with menaces, which is not the way a 21st-century democratic country behaves”.
“The simple fact is this is bullying in order to get the UK to back down on fishing,” he said.
Pictured: The threat to cut Jersey's electricity supply made the front page of tomorrow's Telegraph.
Ms Girardin’s comments came in response to an urgent question in the Assemblée Nationale from La Manche politician Bertrand Sorre, who said he was aware of a Granville mariner who would now only be able to fish for scallops for 11 days a year, having previously fished for 40 a year.
He described the fishing community’s anger as “roaring”, adding that the desire “to enter battle is palpable.”
Mr Sorre also suggested that fewer boats than expected had received permits from Jersey.
External Relations Minister Senator Ian Gorst said he believed there had been a misunderstanding over how permits were issued, explaining that they directly correspond to the previous activity a vessel has carried out in Jersey waters – something outlined in the UK-EU Trade Agreement.
“We are entering a new era and it takes time for all to adjust. Jersey has consistently shown its commitment to finding a smooth transition to the new regime, most evidently by creating an interim arrangement to allow French fishermen time to submit their data.
“That commitment remains. If French fishermen or the authorities have further evidence they would like to submit, we will update the licences to reflect that evidence. There is no time-limit on submitting evidence, and we would like to offer French fishers the opportunity to submit data directly to Jersey, in case they feel information is not travelling quickly enough through the Normandy/France/EU/UK/Jersey route.”
The changes in the fishing regime have come about as a direct result of Brexit, which put an end to the Bay of Granville agreement.
The previous agreement saw the management of Jersey’s waters between three and 12 miles shared between France and the island between 2004 and 31 December last year.
A new permit-based system was launched by Jersey on Saturday (1 May), with 41 vessels over 12m were issued a licence to fish a day in advance. Negotiations are ongoing in relation to obtaining permits for an additional 14 additional vessels. From 1 July, smaller French boats under 12m will also have to hold a licence.
A spokesperson for the UK Government’s DEFRA Department maintained this evening that “Jersey is responsible for its own territorial waters”, but noted that the UK was “constitutionally responsible for the international relations of the Crown Dependencies”. “As such, we have been working closely with the EU and the government of Jersey on fisheries access provisions following the end of the transition period for licensing,” they added.
The European Commission said it was involved in “intense joint work” with the UK Government to resolve the issue, and UK Brexit Minister Lord David Frost was expected to meet Clément Beune, France’s Secretary of State for European Affairs, this evening.
Government of Jersey officials are also understood to have held meetings with French officials today, although they did not confirm this in their statement. Ouest France reported that the Manche region’s Vice President, Jean-Marc Julienne, held crisis talks with Jersey’s Chief Minister this afternoon.
Senator Gorst said he hoped Jersey would be able to “heal the relationship [with France] as soon as possible”, adding that he hoped the Presidents of Normandy and La Manche regions would reverse their decisions to sever ties with the island.
“Jersey’s Government remains completely committed to its joint Channel Islands representative office in Caen, Normandy,” he commented.
Once your comment has been submitted, it won’t appear immediately. There is no need to submit it more than once. Comments are published at the discretion of Bailiwick Publishing, and will include your username.