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French fishermen could block British ports over Brexit dispute with Jersey, politician warns

Minister accuses UK of not abiding by new agreement

Rory Sullivan
Wednesday 29 September 2021 19:36 BST
Fishing vessels protest off the coast of Jersey on 6 May, 2021
Fishing vessels protest off the coast of Jersey on 6 May, 2021 (AP)

French fishermen could block British ports or disrupt the flow of trucks into the Channel Tunnel over a post-Brexit fishing dispute with Jersey, a politician has warned.

Tension over the issue intensified this week after the government of Jersey announced that it will shortly issue 12 small French vessels licences to fish in its waters, out of the 47 that had applied for them.

This means that a total of 111 French boats have been promised full licences this year, and another 31 have been granted temporary ones, which will expire at the end of January.

But Jersey ministers confirmed that 75 other boats did not meet its criteria, and will have to stop fishing off the Channel Island within 30 days.

The decision has angered French politicians, who believe the move goes against the Brexit agreement signed by the UK and the EU late last year.

Jean-Pierre Pont, who represents the Pas-de-Calais department for Emmanuel Macron’s party, La République En Marche, said French fishermen would be within their rights - “after nine months of useless patience” - to retaliate.

“For example, by blocking ports or the entry of lorries towards the UK through the Channel Tunnel,” he said.

His warning echoes the blockade of Jersey’s main harbour by dozens of French fishing vessels in May, which led Boris Johnson to send Navy patrol ships to the area.

Four months on, the dispute has reared its head again, with Mr Pont hyperbolically describing it as “a new Hundred Year’s War which the English undertake against France, forgetting that they ended up losing this famous war”.

Annick Girardin, the French minister for the sea, also expressed her displeasure. “This is a new refusal by the British to apply the conditions of the Brexit agreement despite all the work undertaken together,” she said.

“I have only one watchword left: to obtain definitive licences for our fishermen as provided for in the agreement. French fishing must not be taken hostage by the British for political purposes.”

Elsewhere, the European Commission issued a statement conveying its “regrets that it has not been possible to bring this issue now to an end”, adding that it would ask the UK for “full disclosure” about how it came to its decision.

In Jersey, Ian Gorst, the island’s external relations minister, insisted that the Crown Dependency had taken “a pragmatic, reasonable and evidence-based approach throughout”.

He said that the Jersey government would consider granting more licences, provided it received further evidence of French vessels’ fishing activity between 2017 and the start of 2020. It uses this data to determine whether or not an application is successful.

However, it is not just the French who are unhappy with the latest announcement. So, seemingly, are Jersey fishermen.

Reflecting on the recent development, Don Thompson, the president of the Jersey Fishermen’s Association, claimed that only 70 French vessels relied on Jersey’s waters, complaining that twice as many full and temporary licences were being granted.

“The Jersey fleet is deeply disappointed. Today’s news could not have been worse,” he told the Bailiwick Express.

“What might have softened the blow would have been restrictions on gear and number of days at sea, but those are not included. It is a very sad day.”

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