Jersey minister takes French threats ‘very seriously’ as post-Brexit fishing row heats up

French fisherman warns of 'never-ending war' with Jersey

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Ian Gorst, Jersey’s External Relationship Minister, appeared on Wednesday’s episode of BBC Newsnight to discuss recent issues surrounding Brexit and fishing on the island. In response to Jersey introducing a new licensing system for French fishing boats, fishers and French ministers expressed outrage and threatened to retaliate.

Speaking to host Emily Maitlis, Mr Gorst said the threats from Paris and French fishers are “disproportionate” to the issues around post-Brexit licensing.

He is also “grateful” Prime Minister Boris Johnson authorised the deployment of two Royal Navy river-vessels to the island as a “precautionary measure to monitor the waters”.

Ms Maitlis brought up Don Thompson from the Jersey Fishing Association, who said the island Government had “capitulated to the French Government and the EU at every turn”.

In response, Mr Gorst said: “Fishing is a divisive topic, and temperatures run high. And feelings run high.

“But the new trade deal is a change from the old relationship that we had with France under something called the Bay of Granville agreement, and it is, as we expected, proving difficult to move to this new relationship.

“But we think it’s in the best interest of Jersey fishermen and French fishermen and the sustainability of our waters into the longer term.”

Ms Maitlis then referenced how Jersey did not get to vote in the 2016 Brexit referendum, and asked “did you have a seat at the table as to how it was worked out or do you feel a bit stitched up?”

Mr Gorst responded: “Of course, it was negotiated between the United Kingdom Government and the European Union, but we had input into those negotiating positions.

“We were very clear with the UK Government the policies we would like to see delivered, and we are now living and trading under the terms of the new Trade deal.”

The minister then said he hoped the French boats planning to blockade the main port “are protesting, and it is a peaceful protest”.

He added: “We absolutely accept their right to protest because they are not happy with outcome of that trade deal, but we do take very seriously a threat to blockade the main harbour of Jersey, and therefore we are grateful for the support of the British Government.”

Concluding the interview, Ms Mailtis referenced Annick Girardin, France’s Seas Minister, suggesting Paris could turn off Jersey’s electricity over the row.

Mr Gorst dismissed the threat and said: “Of course that’s a commercial contract between EDF and the Jersey electricity company.

“Even the threat to do so was disproportionate to the issues that we’ve got around licensing.

“But should it happen in extremis, we are able to generate all of our electricity on island but we don’t expect that to happen “

Jersey, at the centre of Britain and France’s row over fishing, introduced a new licensing system for French fishing boats, which requires them to show a history of fishing in its waters.

Ms Girardin said she was “disgusted” to learn that Jersey had issued 41 licences with unilaterally imposed conditions, including the time French fishing vessels could spend in its waters.

Ms Girardin told France’s National Assembly on Tuesday: “In the (Brexit) deal there are retaliatory measures. Well, we’re ready to use them.

“Regarding Jersey, I remind you of the delivery of electricity along underwater cables.

“Even if it would be regrettable if we had to do it, we’ll do it if we have to.”

In response, the UK authorised two Royal Navy vessels to be deployed near the island.

A UK Government spokesman also blasted Ms Girardin for her incendiary comments.

They said: “To threaten Jersey like this is clearly unacceptable and disproportionate.

“We are working closely with the EU and Jersey on fisheries access provisions following the end of the transition period so trust the French will use the mechanisms of our new treaty to solve problems.”

Mr Thompson also said: “It was inevitable that the French would kick off, but the reaction we’re seeing from France is almost like something you would see from Iran or Russia.

“They’re not just saying they can cut off the electricity supply, French fishermen are saying that they’re coming tomorrow [Thursday] to blockade the harbour in time to stop the ferries from coming in so there’ll be no food supply and no fuel coming into the island either.]

“So it comes pretty close to an act of war, this.”

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