Two Royal Navy gunships have started patrolling the coast off Jersey as 70 French fishing boats threaten to blockade the harbour of the British Crown dependency.
HMS Severn and HMS Tamar were sent from Portsmouth ‘as a precaution’ in a major ratcheting up of the row with France over post-Brexit fishing rights.
Armed with cannon and machine guns, the ships are roaming the Channel after Paris warned yesterday it could cut off electricity to the island – which is largely supplied via an undersea cable.
It is understood the Prime Minister made the decision to deploy the patrol boats after intelligence suggested a fleet of up to 100 fishing boats was threatening to block all access to the port at Saint Helier this morning.
French maritime minister Annick Girardin yesterday accused Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands, of dragging its feet over issuing new licences to French fishing boats.
She said France was ready to take ‘retaliatory measures’ – suggesting it could cut power to Jersey, which receives 95 per cent of its electricity from France.
David Sellam, the head of the Normandy-Brittany sea authority, added he believes Jersey has been taken over by an ‘extremist fringe who want to reduce French fishing access and profit from Brexit’.
He said: ‘We’re ready for war. We can bring Jersey to its knees if necessary.’
Maritime tracking websites this morning showed HMS Severn had arrived in Jersey ‘to conduct maritime security patrols’. It is an older Batch 1 patrol vessel equipped with 20mm cannons and 7.62mm machine guns.
HMS Tamar, a Batch 2 vessel with a 30mm MK44 Bushmaster cannon, has also made the trip.
The Ministry of Defence said: ‘HMS Severn and HMS Tamar are deploying to Jersey to conduct maritime security patrols. This is a strictly precautionary measure and has been agreed with the Jersey Government.’
Last night’s move evokes memories of the Cod Wars which took place in the North Atlantic during the 1970s, when at times the Royal Navy stopped Icelandic boats from interfering with British trawlers.
The row is the result of Jersey implementing new requirements under the terms of the UK-EU trade deal for boats to submit evidence of their past fishing activities in order to receive a licence to carry on operating in its waters.
Two Royal Navy gunships have started patrolling the coast off Jersey as 70 French fishing boats threaten to blockade the harbour of the British Crown dependency. Pictured: Jersey harbour this morning
HMS Severn and HMS Tamar were sent from Portsmouth ‘as a precaution’ in a major ratcheting up of the row with France over post-Brexit fishing rights. Pictured: The French blockade attempt this morning
Armed with cannon and machine guns, the ships are roaming the Channel after Paris warned yesterday it could cut off electricity to the island – which is largely supplied via an undersea cable. Pictured: french vessels on the Jersey coast
Boris Johnson is seen running this morning ahead of casting his vote as the country goes to the polls at the local elections. He is also having to keep his eye on what is happening in Jersey as tensions mount over fishing rights
Boris Johnson last night sent two Royal Navy boats to Jersey ‘as a precaution’ to monitor the situation following an ‘unacceptable’ threat from France to cut off electricity. Pictured: HMS Tamar in April
The Royal Navy’s HMS Severn Offshore Patrol Vessel enters the River Tyne on a previous deployment
The Royal Navy’s HMS Severn is armed with a 20mm cannon and two general purpose machine guns
The HMS Tamar, which is expected to arrive in Jersey this morning, has three general purpose machine guns on board
Post-Brexit rules that kicked in on Friday last week means French fishing vessels now need a licence to fish the waters around Jersey, which are issued by the island’s government
Mr Johnson yesterday ‘stressed the urgent need for a de-escalation in tensions and for dialogue between Jersey and France on fishing access’ in talks with Chief Minister of Jersey, John Le Fondre, and the island’s minister of external affairs, Ian Gorst.
A Downing Street spokesman said: ‘The Prime Minister underlined his unwavering support for Jersey. He said that any blockade would be completely unjustified.
‘As a precautionary measure the UK will be sending two offshore patrol vessels to monitor the situation. They agreed the UK and Jersey governments would continue to work closely on this issue.’
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Trade Minister Greg Hands also spoke to their French counterparts on Wednesday and raised concerns about the recent provocations.
Government sources said Environment Secretary George Eustice has repeatedly tried to set up a meeting with Mrs Girardin in the past 48 hours but the French minister has been unable or unwilling to attend.
Speaking yesterday, Mrs Girardin warned France was prepared to use ‘retaliatory measures’ outlined in the Brexit deal following the bitter row over fishing rights.
She added: ‘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.’
Around 95 per cent of Jersey’s electricity supply comes via a £40million undersea electricity cable which was laid between the island and France in 2016.
Known as Normandie 1, the 16.7-mile cable took over a week to install and also provides power to Guernsey.
A senior Government source said Mrs Girardin’s comments were ‘surprising and disappointing, especially from a close neighbour’, adding: ‘This is just the latest example of the EU issuing threats as a first resort at any sign of difficulty.’
Maritime tracking websites showed that HMS Severn was en route to Jersey. It is an older Batch 1 patrol vessel equipped with 20mm cannons and 7.62mm machine guns
Jersey foreign minister Ian Gorst (left) yesterday hit back at ‘disproportionate’ threats by French seas minister Annick Girardin (right) to cut off electricity to the island amid a fishing row
HMS SEVERN STATS
Displacement: 1,700 tonnes
Length: 79.5 m (260 ft 10 in)
Beam: 13.5 m (44 ft 3 in)
Draught: 3.8 m (12 ft 6 in)
Speed: 20 kn (37 km/h)
Propulsion: Two Ruston 12RK diesel engines
Range: 5,500 nmi (10,200 km)
Endurance: 21 days
1 × Oerlikon 20 mm cannon
2 × General purpose machine guns
HMS TAMAR STATS
Displacement: 2,000 tonnes
Length: 90.5 m (296 ft 11 in)
Beam: 13 m (42 ft 8 in)
Draught: 3.8 m (12 ft 6 in)
Speed: 24 kn (44 km/h)
Propulsion: Two V16 main engines
Range: 5,500 nmi (10,200 km)
Endurance: 35 days
1 × 30mm Mark 44 Bushmaster II mounted cannon
2 × General purpose machine guns
2 × Miniguns
Jersey’s foreign affairs minister Mr Gorst also vented fury at the threat, saying ‘it is not the first … that France has made’ over fisheries and warning the ‘confusing’ EU trade agreement had caused the feud.
Mr Gorst said that of the 41 boats which sought licences under the new post-Brexit rules last Friday, all but 17 had provided the evidence required.
He asserted that the fishermen have simply failed to provide enough data about their historic fishing routes, and as soon as this data is provided the licences will be updated to allow them access.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Gorst said: ‘We absolutely respect the historic rights of French fishermen to fish in Jersey waters as they have been doing for centuries.
‘But the trade deal – that Jersey didn’t negotiate, and nor did France – says that fishing vessels have to… provide all of the evidence of the amount of fishing they have actually done [in the last three years].
‘We can all see that this is not the first threat that the French have made, either to Jersey or the United Kingdom, since we’re into this new deal.
‘It would seem disproportionate to cut off electricity for the sake of needing to provide extra details so we can refine the licences.
‘The trade deal is clear that when fishermen provide the evidence, we will provide the licences.’
Boris Johnson (seen yesterday) waded into the row tonight with a government spokeswoman branding the ‘disproportionate’ sabre-rattling towards the Channel Island by Paris – insisting there were other ways of working out the issues
French President Emmanuel Macron speaks at the Academie Francaise Bicentenary of the death of Napoleon Bonaparte
It is understood the Royal Navy vessels deployed are patrol boats HMS Severn and HMS Tamar. Pictured: HMS Tamar last May
Didier Leguelinel, from the Normandy fishing committee, last night told the Daily Telegraph he could not stop the anticipated blockade, saying: ‘The general feeling is that we have been insulted by the Jersey Government.’
Simmering tensions between France the UK over rights to fish in the Channel suddenly boiled over last Friday when post-Brexit trading rules came into force around the island of Jersey.
The new rules mean that any large French fishing vessels that want to enter the waters will need a licence provided by Jersey’s government.
But fishermen have complained that the licences have been issued with conditions that they were previously unaware of and which had not previously been cleared with French authorities.
French regional officials spoke out about the issue at the weekend, before the French government got involved and ramped up the rhetoric on Wednesday.
Angered fishermen also began calling for a blockade of the island, and for their British counterparts to be banned from landing their catch at French ports.
At the moment, under the terms of the trade deal, French fishermen have to apply for their licence to their government, which then sends the application to Westminster, before it is passed on to Jersey.
In another sign of fraying tensions, it was revealed that Normandy will not reopen its honorary diplomatic premises in Jersey post-Covid – effectively cutting ties with the Channel Island.
Mr Gorst described the decision as ‘disappointing’ and added that ‘those historic ties are really important to us.’
Mr Gorst insisted the row come down to just 17 licences for French boats that have not provided enough data about their historic fishing routes (file image, French fishermen protest the licences last month)
French fishermen have also called for a blockade of Jersey and for British vessels to be banned from landing their catches in French ports until the licences are sorted (file image, French fishermen protest the licences last month)
Around 95 per cent of Jersey’s electricity supply comes via a £40million undersea electricity cable which was laid between the island (above, Saint Helier) and France in 2016
Energy links to France ‘reviewed’
By Elliot Mulligan for the Daily Mail
Britain could review its energy links with France in the wake of the row over Jersey, it was claimed last night.
Britain currently imports about 8 per cent of its power from foreign nations and Northern Ireland via underwater interconnectors.
But as the UK becomes more reliant on wind power, there are plans to increase foreign electricity imports to about 25 per cent, which would be relied upon when the renewable source is low.
However, a Whitehall source told The Daily Telegraph the UK would have to take a more cautious view of the French as an energy partner in the wake of its threat to cut off Jersey’s electricity supply.
It is understood the Government now views the Netherlands as a more reliable ally and is looking at projects with that country.
The move could jeopardise a controversial £1.1billion scheme to build a cable between Hampshire and Le Havre to provide electricity to millions of homes.
Alexander Temerko, an energy tycoon and Tory donor who is leading the project, said a link to Jersey could be added to his or other interconnectors to cut the island’s reliance on its undersea cables to France.
He said: ‘We need to avoid putting people under humanitarian risk.’
He held talks with Marc Lefevre, the president of the La Manche region of northern France, yesterday on the ‘difficult set of issues relating to fishing licences’.
‘There are a number of important matters which we will continue to work through,’ he said.
Mr Gorst added the Jersey government is now seeking permission from London and Brussels to speak directly with the French fishermen concerned to resolve the issue.
Meanwhile, UK vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi urged all sides to ‘work constructively’ to find a solution.
‘This is an issue for the [EU] commission to work with our team and all the indications from minister (David) Frost and his team is that the commission is taking seriously some of these operational challenges that we need to fix together,’ he said.
The French fisheries ministry asserts that London has effectively made new zoning rules for the waters – ‘where the ships can go and cannot go’, as well as the number of days the fishermen can spend at sea and with which machinery.
Paris claims London has made new demands while insisting that French fishing vessels carry data-tracking gear ‘which were not arranged or discussed, and which we were not notified about.’
Dimitri Rogoff, president of the regional fishing committee of Normandy in northern France, said that if French fishermen continued to be blocked from the waters off Jersey, there should be reprisal measures.
‘Fishermen from Jersey should not be able to land at Granville,’ he said, referring to the French port nearest the island.
French fishermen last month began a protest movement, blockading trucks bringing fish from Britain to France, over complaints that few of their vessels have obtained licences to operate in British waters.
France and Britain have increasingly clashed over fishing in recent weeks, with French fishermen saying they are being prevented from operating in British waters because of difficulties in obtaining licences.
The French fisheries ministry said Britain had introduced ‘new technical measures’ relating to licences for fishing off the Channel Islands which had not been properly declared to the European Union under the terms of the Brexit deal.
‘We consider that if the new demands for sea zoning or fishing equipment are integrated into the licences – when the European Commission has not been notified – they are null and void,’ the ministry said.
It added it was adhering ‘strictly to the deal’ agreed on fishing under the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union on January 1.
‘If the United Kingdom wants to introduce new measures, it must notify the European Commission which in turn notifies us – that allows for us to engage in a dialogue,’ the ministry said.
Tonight’s decision followed talks between the Prime Minister and Chief Minister of Jersey, John Le Fondre (above), regarding threats of a blockade of Saint Helier made as a dispute over post-Brexit access to Jersey waters escalated
Fishing boats are seen at a port in France. Dimitri Rogoff, president of the regional fishing committee of Normandy in northern France, said that if French fishermen continued to be blocked from the waters off Jersey, there should be reprisal measures
Downing Street confirmed the Prime Minister has spoken to the Chief Minister of Jersey John Le Fondre regarding threats of a blockade of Saint Helier – the only town on the Channel Island
‘These new technical measures are not applicable to our fishermen as things stand.’
Fishing proved one of the most fraught issues in the frantic negotiations leading up to Britain’s departure from the EU, with London tightly guarding control over its waters as a symbol of its sovereignty.
France said it had voiced its displeasure at the surprise measures with the European Commission.
Commission spokeswoman Vivian Loonela said the EU was engaged in ‘intense joint work’ with the British government to resolve the issue.
‘Any condition should be notified in a timely way to allow the other party sufficient time to comment or adapt,’ she said of the new British requirements.
‘In addition, any such conditions cannot be discriminatory towards our fishermen.’
DANIEL HANNAN: Emmanuel Macron, the new Napoleon? No, he’s a Poundland Putin
A stable democracy doesn’t threaten to cut off its neighbour’s energy supplies. That is the sort of behaviour we associate with rogue states.
Putin’s Russia, for example, sometimes resorts to ‘gas diplomacy’ to browbeat Ukraine and other nearby states. An energy blockade is calculatedly bellicose — if not exactly an act of war, then certainly a declaration of hostile intent.
Incredibly, such a threat is now being made by the French government against Jersey, a British Crown dependency 14 miles from the Normandy coast, in a row over fishing licences.
In a dramatic development last night, as Boris Johnson pledged his ‘unwavering support’ for the island, it was announced that two Royal Navy patrol vessels will be sent to monitor this planned French blockade of Jersey’s main port.
A stable democracy doesn’t threaten to cut off its neighbour’s energy supplies. That is the sort of behaviour we associate with rogue states. Pictured: French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron stand in front of the tomb of French Emperor Napoleon during a ceremony marking the 200th anniversary of his death in Paris on May 5
Jersey gets most of its electricity from cables that run under that short stretch of water from France.
A contract with the French firm EDF, which runs until 2027, provides for over 90 per cent of the island’s power — though Jersey Electricity insists that, if supplies are disrupted, it can generate whatever is needed.
Whether or not the French government has the legal authority to override Jersey’s contract with EDF, it certainly has the practical capacity: EDF is state-owned.
So when France’s Maritime Minister Annick Girardin threatens ‘retaliatory measures’ and says ‘France has many levers, notably on the supply of electricity by undersea cables to Jersey,’ we should take her seriously.
By ‘we’, I mean all of us in the United Kingdom, which is responsible for Jersey’s international relations. For this is a Brexit dispute — part of a wider EU campaign of intimidation since our decision to leave.
Jersey was never in the EU, and so was never fully part of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Yet it has now been dragged into this argument because of French resentment of the UK’s reassertion of control over its territorial waters.
The details of the dispute are technical, almost petty. The UK and the Channel Islands recognise the historic rights of boats that have always fished in their waters.
A new system for verifying such claims was brought in when we left the CFP, but not all French skippers were able to comply with it.
Putin’s Russia, for example, sometimes resorts to ‘gas diplomacy’ to browbeat Ukraine and other nearby states. An energy blockade is calculatedly bellicose — if not exactly an act of war, then certainly a declaration of hostile intent
This is, in other words, a situation broadly comparable to the imposition of extra checks on British exporters, especially of shellfish, who sold to Continental markets. New procedures mean extra paperwork and, in some cases, lost sales.
How did our Government respond to that earlier dispute? It worked patiently to overcome the new bureaucracy and, in the meantime, it compensated the affected industries.
French ministers, by contrast, have issued public threats rather that engaging quietly with their opposite numbers.
Why such hysterical escalation? This is not the first time that the Channel Islands have been in our front line. Jersey was attacked in 1406 during the Hundred Years War, and again in 1779 and 1781 when France sought to take advantage of the revolution in America.
The island was also occupied by Germany from July 1940 until the surrender in May 1945 — a wretched experience that saw its children evacuated to mainland UK, and thus all but killed off the dialect of Norman French that had been widespread.
These days, France is supposed to be a Nato ally. Yet here it is threatening the sort of sanctions that might be more aptly deployed against an enemy, such as North Korea.
Part of the explanation might lie in Emmanuel Macron’s increasingly dictatorial behaviour. It is extraordinary to think that the French president was once hailed as a liberal centrist.
During the recent row over vaccines, for example, he made the kinds of statements that get anti-vaxxers banned from social media, claiming that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was ineffective, but simultaneously demanding legal action to get more of it.
His grandiose gestures — yesterday, he laid a wreath at the tomb of Napoleon, who destroyed the French republic with a putsch then plunged Europe into a series of disastrous wars — suggest autocracy rather than moderation.
His grandiose gestures — yesterday, he laid a wreath at the tomb of Napoleon, who destroyed the French republic with a putsch then plunged Europe into a series of disastrous wars — suggest autocracy rather than moderation. Pictured: Macron and his wife stand in front of the tomb of Napoleon during a ceremony on May 5
Perhaps he is worried about the rise of Marine Le Pen, who is catching up with him in the polls.
Last week, the leader of the National Rally endorsed a letter written by 20 retired generals that hinted at a military intervention to prevent France sliding into chaos — a letter backed, according to the polls, by 58 per cent of French voters.
Perhaps Macron wants to burnish his nationalist credentials. Perhaps he calculates that bashing the Brits (in the eyes of most French voters, Jerseymen count as Brits) plays well with the home crowd. Or perhaps he sees himself as another Bonaparte, leading France to glory.
Whatever the explanation, he plainly likes to exaggerate his quarrels with the UK, not least over fisheries.
If it were solely a row about fishing vessels’ licences, we might be able to shrug it off. But this is the latest in a series of salvoes that have been fired at Britain since the Brexit vote.
Some of these have been micro-aggressions: sneering tweets from Eurocrats or outrageous claims by Charles Michel, President of the European Council, that the UK is prohibiting vaccine exports.
Others have been more serious. The UK, for example, has granted what is known as ‘equivalence’ to EU financial services companies, allowing them to operate here as if regulated in the UK.
This is a normal courtesy among developed countries. But the EU refuses to reciprocate.
Then there was the vaccine blockade, in which Macron played such a low role. Embarrassed because they had been slow to place orders, and desperate to deflect blame, the European Commission announced a targeted embargo from which every neighbouring country was exempted except the UK.
Most seriously, there is the determination in Brussels to use the Northern Ireland Protocol to force Britain to follow its rules. Many of the EU’s constituent nations are our allies, but the Brussels institutions cannot be considered well-disposed.
Eurocrats see our economic success, not as an opportunity to sell more to their largest market, but as an affront. They view Britain, not as a partner, but as a renegade province.
And how should we respond?
One obvious step is to reduce our dependence on electricity generated in the EU. We mustn’t be in a position again where we can be blackmailed as Jersey is.
More widely, we need to rethink our geopolitical goals. Just as our trade is going global, so should our strategic assumptions. For decades, we rightly focused on the defence of Europe through Nato.
But can we continue to defend an antagonistic EU, with all the joint operations and intelligence-sharing implied?
Our truest friends, like our richest prospects, lie across the oceans. It is clearly time to raise our eyes.
Lord Hannan is a former Conservative MEP and serves on the UK Board of Trade.