French boats retreat from Jersey fishing rights protest as EU accuses the UK of breaching trade deal

Thu 6 May 2021
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News

The EU has accused the UK of breaking the newly ratified EU-UK trade deal in a dispute over fishing licences in the waters around the island of Jersey, a British Crown Dependency that is defended and internationally represented by the UK government.

The latest development saw Royal Navy ships arrive in the island’s waters after France last night threatened to cut off power to Jersey, claiming it is denying licences to French boats entitled to fish in its waters.  

The BBC reports that the Royal Navy’s HMS Tamar and HMS Severn were patrolling waters around Jersey as about 80 French boats protested at the island's main port over post-Brexit fishing rights. 

Homeward bound

However at lunchtime today Don Thompson, president of Jersey Fishermen's Association, told Sky News that the French boats blockading the harbour had returned home but maintained their demands.

Under the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA), EU boats can continue to fish British waters under phased access arrangements, though they could be excluded entirely after 2026. 

The European Commission said the UK’s failure to warn the EU about special conditions attached to the Jersey fishing licences ran counter to its obligations under the trade agreement, which the EU ratified last week.

Totemic fish

Although fishing is a relatively small part of the economies of both countries, it has assumed totemic importance.

Michel Barnier’s upcoming Brexit diaries are set to reveal that it was one of the last issues to delay the final legal text as the British team submitted a version on 23 December last year “stuffed with traps, pseudo-compromises and attempts to backtrack”, the Guardian reports.

France too has been feisty in its defence of ‘its’ fish. Fishing minister Clement Beaune warned last month that “retaliation measures” could be taken in areas such as financial services if fishing promises were not kept, the Telegraph reported.

The Daily Telegraph concludes the Jersey standoff shows the “promise of Brexit” has not been delivered for the UK’s trawler fleet despite being free of the constraints of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy.  

Diplomatic status

As tensions rose in the English Channel, calm was restored to EU-UK relations elsewhere when the EU ambassador to the UK was granted full diplomatic status. 

The BBC reports that the Foreign Office had resisted granting full diplomatic status to the EU ambassador to the UK, arguing the EU should not be treated like an independent nation. 

The EU was angered as its 143 delegations around the world enjoy full diplomatic status. It responded by shutting the British ambassador in Brussels out of meetings, Reuters reports.

But in a joint statement yesterday, the UK and EU announced ambassador Joao Vale de Almeida, would get “a status consistent with heads of missions of states”. 

The Guardian understands the move follows “discreet pressure from the US for the UK to sort out the diplomatic row given the common threat posed to the west by China, Russia and other authoritarian states”.