France takes action against UK and Jersey for denial of fishing rights
France on Wednesday warned of reprisals in Brussels against the UK and Jersey for their denial of many post-Brexit fishing licenses, as trawlers threatened further protests and even a blockade on cross-Channel exports.
Fishing rights for EU boats in UK waters have been a key stumbling block in negotiations for a Brexit trade deal between London and Brussels, and have threatened to derail the deal.
But the problem resurfaced after Britain said on Tuesday it would only grant 12 of 47 applications for new licenses to EU small vessels to fish in its territorial waters.
The UK Crown’s Autonomous Dependency of Jersey issued 54 full licenses and 31 temporary licenses on Wednesday, but denied 75 applications.
French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said the decisions were “totally unacceptable and inadmissible” and “contravene the deal that was signed as part of Brexit”, threatening retaliation via Brussels.
“We will continue and intensify our work with the (European) Commission to move forward on this file, and also to study possible retaliatory measures that could be taken if the agreement is not respected,” he said. added.
Maritime Minister Annick Girardin, speaking after a meeting with French fisheries representatives, called on EU countries to form a common front against London to honor its post-Brexit commitments.
“This reluctance of the British will not involve this one issue,” she said, suggesting a variety of “technical matters” such as future fishing quotas.
“We can see that on all these issues, the British are dragging their feet,” she said, adding in English: “I want to recover the licenses”.
Franco-British relations are already strained, Paris accusing London of having signed behind its back a new defense agreement to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines of American construction.
At the same time, London is in discussions with Brussels on the implementation of post-Brexit trade deals for Northern Ireland.
Dimitri Rogoff, president of the Normandy regional fisheries committee, said AFP that the fishermen were “ready to attack (the capital of Jersey) Saint Helier”.
“It’s tense, very tense,” he added.
Olivier Lepretre, chairman of the regional fisheries committee for the northern Hauts-de-France region, said pressure had to be put on Britain.
He suggested that the fishermen had the “port of Calais in their sights”, raising the threat of a blockade of the key gateway for goods from mainland Europe to Britain.
In Jersey, which sets fishing conditions in its waters as part of last year’s Brexit deal, all unlicensed boats must stop fishing in its waters within 30 days, though it agrees and always considers new evidence to support the offers.
“By issuing these licenses in the coming days, we are ensuring that the fishing effort in our waters is similar to that before Brexit”, said the Minister for the Environment of the Channel Island , John Young.
“Those boats with an economic dependence on Jersey waters, which have fished here regularly and demonstrated it, will be licensed.”
In denying licenses on Tuesday, the UK government insisted it had pursued a “reasonable approach”, issuing a total of nearly 1,700 licenses to block vessels to fish in the Great Britain’s exclusive economic zone. Brittany, which is defined as 12 to 200 nautical miles from the coast.
Stormy protests by French trawlers over Jersey fishing rights erupted earlier this year and even threatened to turn into a full-blown naval incident.
As the French trawlers headed for St Helier, London sent two naval patrol boats to monitor the situation, prompting Paris to react in kind.
In order to calm the spirits, a three-month extension has been granted for EU vessels to fish in Jersey waters. This expires this week, although ships will still be able to operate for next month.
The neighboring Channel island of Guernsey, which also enforces fishing rules in its waters, separately announced a “road map” for the issuance of licenses to French vessels, with a grace period extended until January for that decisions are made.
Before Britain left the bloc, vessels from EU countries were allowed to fish in British waters subject to agreed quotas on what they could catch.
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