As the dust settles on yesterday’s fishing crisis, the true battle is only just beginning. If direct talks with the French and EU flounder, the island could be thrust at the centre of the first major clash over the Brexit trade deal.
Yesterday was full of flags, flares, shouts, ‘rough play’ between vessels and even musket fire at the harbour, but today that drama has made way for more sombre diplomacy online.
Express understands that Jersey Government officials have been meeting with EU representatives to put their side of the story forward in the row over its new regime for controlling its waters.
If this, as well as discussions via a new direct link with the French go well, the hot air of yesterday may, fortunately, dissipate very quickly.
Pictured: At the heart of yesterday’s protests was a claim from French fishermen that, unlike the previous Bay of Granville agreement, Jersey’s new permit system discriminates against them because it includes a number of conditions.
If not, the island could find itself thrust at the centre of the first major Brexit battle between the UK and the EU.
This would involve an arbitration process, which, if it doesn’t rule in Jersey’s favour, could lead to sanctions on the island.
At the heart of yesterday’s protests was a claim from French fishermen that, unlike the previous Bay of Granville agreement, Jersey’s new permit system discriminates against them because it includes a number of conditions. These include limits on the number of days per year at sea and zones in which they could fish.
They said that these limits were imposed without warning or discussion.
Although gun-carrying Naval ships were stationed in Jersey’s harbour to oversee the protest, the most meaningful shot fired actually came from Brussels.
As the demonstration raged on yesterday afternoon, the European Commission issued a statement giving their backing to the French and accusing the island of breaking the terms of the UK-EU Brexit deal.
Pictured: Gun-carrying Naval ships, including HMS Tamar, were stationed in Jersey’s harbour to oversee the protest.
“Until the UK authorities provide further justifications on the new conditions, these new conditions should not apply,” Commission spokesperson for ocean and fisheries matters, Vivian Loonela, said.
"To recall, under the EU-UKTCA, any new specific conditions to fishing authorisations that limit EU fishing activities in UK waters must comply with the objectives and principles set out in the TCA, which are based on clear scientific rationale. Any such conditions must also be non-discriminatory between UK and EU vessels. Furthermore, any proposed management conditions have to be notified in advance to the other party, giving them sufficient time to assess and react to the proposed measures.”
She also noted that the EU had only become aware of the conditions added to the French permits by the UK’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on Friday.
But this view was challenged later that evening by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who threw his weight behind Jersey.
"The Trade and Co-operation Agreement brought in changes to fishing arrangements between the UK and the EU. Jersey authorities have a right to regulate fisheries in their waters under this agreement and we support them in exercising those rights,” he said.
Pictured: Senators John Le Fondré, Lyndon Farnham and Ian Gorst spoke to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday.
While he recalled HMS Severn and Tamar from Jersey waters, he said that they would remain “on standby to provide any further assistance Jersey requests."
While Jersey’s Government has not responded directly to the comments of the European Commission, it has always maintained that it acted in line with “legal advice”, in “good faith” and with due regard to the terms of the trade deal.
They said that all permits were issued in line with the evidence about previous activity supplied to the island.
If the permits received by the fishermen had come as a surprise, External Relations Minister Ian Gorst said that this must have been the result of a communication issue.
Under the terms of the Brexit deal, Jersey and France weren’t able to communicate directly: all information had to instead flow via the UK Government and EU.
But yesterday saw a breakthrough following emergency talks held at Victoria Pier over the railings of two boats between Assistant Minister Gregory Guida and French officials: Jersey and France were given the green light to talk to each other directly.
“We will also be re-establishing a liaison committee with French and Jersey fishermen, and their administrations, so there will be a mechanism for ongoing discussions [about fishing conditions],” Deputy Guida told Express.
“I wouldn’t say the issue is over but we have a new level of understanding and the important thing is that the French fishermen now have our number and can talk to us directly.”
Pictured: Assistant Minister Gregory Guida took part in emergency talks with French officials yesterday.
It’s hoped that this new channel of communication means that any issues will be able to be resolved swiftly.
However, if relations remain stormy, the crisis may have to be escalated to UK-EU arbitration level.
This would involve a panel of one UK representative – on behalf of Jersey - and one EU representative – on behalf of France - and a jointly appointed chair.
Outlining the “robust mechanism… to resolve disputes” in the trade deal, Commission spokesperson Daniel Ferrie said at a press conference yesterday: “If compliance with the ruling of the arbitration tribunal is not respected then the complaining party can indeed suspend its own obligations in a proportionate way until the other party eventually complies with the ruling.”
When asked if a “proportionate” sanction on Jersey could include stopping its electricity supply – 95% comes from EDF in France – he declined to comment.
However, Mr Ferrie noted that sanctions can be applied “across all economic areas”.
He emphasised that things had not reached this stage, and that the first crucial step was engaging with all parties.
“We believe in dialogue,” he said.
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