The move came after reports that the French fishing fleet would stage a blockade of St Helier’s port in protest about fishing licences.
HMS Severn and HMS Tamar took up station off the town to “monitor the situation”, with dozens of French fishing boats gathering nearby on Thursday morning.
While Downing Street stressed “the urgent need for a de-escalation in tensions and for dialogue between Jersey and France on fishing access”, the decision to send ships appears to have escalated tensions.
In response, Paris sent two of its own coastal patrol boats to the island, after one French minister said the country “won’t be intimidated” by British manoeuvres.
Relations became strained this week after French maritime minister Annick Girardin threatened on Tuesday to cut off electricity to Jersey, which is located only 14 miles off the coast of northern France.
Although this episode escalatated the row, it has been brewing for months after Brexit brought an end to the Granville Bay Agreement, a fisheries arrangement that was signed by Jersey and France in 2000.
French fishermen have for months been concerned that changes introduced by the island after Brexit would affect their livelihoods.
They say the fishing licence application system is too onerous because it requires them to provide GPS data to prove they have historically fished in an area – and they argue that UK and Jersey authorities foisted the new conditions on them without agreement.
As a result some fishermen have been locked out of their usual fishing waters and say they are losing money.
In response, fishing industry protesters in France blockaded ports and prevented UK-caught fish from landing – dealing another blow to the UK industry already reeling from the effects of Brexit.
When this failed to dislodge the UK position, they threatened to blockade Jersey and cut electricity supplies to the island. The regional government of Normandy has also said it will also close its office on the island.
Stephanie Yon-Courtin, a French MEP and member of the EU Fisheries Committee, said the dispute was “all the more sad” after decades of good relations.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she urged Jersey and Westminster to consider French fishermen.
“Some of Jersey’s people need to understand, and Jersey’s government and UK government, have to to understand that our fishermen need to carry on working,” she said.
Ms Yon-Courtin added that cutting power to the island would only be considered as a “last resort”.
Over in Jersey, Ian Gorst, the island’s foreign minister, said that diplomatic solutions were needed to resolve the issue.
Mr Gorst told TalkRadio that the UK would “absolutely not” go to war with France over the dispute, adding that France’s threats had been “totally disproportionate to the technical issues” of implementing Brexit.
Additional reporting by Press Association
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