Britain’s government said Wednesday it is sending two navy patrol vessels to monitor the situation on the island of Jersey amid an escalating dispute with France over fishing rights in the waters there following Britain’s departure from the European Union.
A spokesperson for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there was an “urgent need for a de-escalation in tensions and for dialogue between Jersey and France on fishing access.”
Authorities on Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands and a self-governing British Crown Dependency near the coast of northern France, have accused France of acting disproportionately after Paris threatened to cut off electricity to the island.
Jersey and the other Channel Islands are closer to France than to Britain. Jersey receives most of its electricity from France, supplied through undersea cables.
‘Retaliatory measures’ possible
Annick Girardin, France’s maritime minister, warned Tuesday that France was ready to take “retaliatory measures,” accusing Jersey of stalling in issuing licences to French boats under the terms of the U.K.’s post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union.
The dispute came after the island implemented new rules requiring fishermen to submit their past fishing activities in order to receive a licence to continue operating in Jersey waters.
Britain’s government said earlier Wednesday that the French threat was “clearly unacceptable and disproportionate” and that it was working with the EU and Jersey over the fishing matter following the end of the Brexit transition period.
Johnson’s spokesperson said that “any blockade would be completely unjustified” and that the U.K. will send two navy vessels as a “precautionary measure.”
France intends to implement post-Brexit deal
The external affairs minister for Jersey, Sen. Ian Gorst, said Jersey was just following new rules that took effect last week.
“This is not the first threat that the French have made to either Jersey or the United Kingdom since we are into this new deal,” Gorst told the BBC. “It would seem disproportionate to cut off electricity for the sake of needing to provide extra details so that we can refine the licences.”
Britain is responsible for the island’s foreign relations, even though Jersey is not technically part of the U.K.
The Channel Islands are self-governing dependencies of the U.K. that have their own administrations and elected legislatures.
French government spokesperson Gabriel Attal declined to comment on the electricity issue on Wednesday, but he expressed France’s “total determination” to fully implement the post-Brexit agreement with the U.K., especially regarding the fishing industry.
“We will continue to do everything we can to make sure this agreement is respected,” he said.