Jersey was taken by surprise last night when France said it would be blocking local fishing vessels from its ports and threatened imminent electricity measures – despite plans to make a “positive” announcement just hours earlier.
French government spokesman Gabriel Attal announced from the Elysée Palace that "retaliatory" measures would start from next Tuesday in response to France not getting the number of fishing licences it requested.
He said they will include a ban on the landing of seafood from British fishing vessels into designated French ports, and the “strengthening of health and customs controls, systematic safety checks of British ships and the reinforcement of controls on lorries to and from the UK”.
He added that there will later be a second set of reprisals that “would include, among other things, energy measures that will affect the supply of electricity to the Channel Islands.”
Video: French government spokesman announces some of the retaliatory measures at the Elysée Palace on Wednesday.
This morning, Maritime Minister Annick Girardin confirmed in an interview with RTL that these measures would not mean pulling the plug in the immediate future.
In the first instance, she said they could take the form of tariffs - echoing previous comments from European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune.
She also said that British vessels could expect health and customs rules to be applied "to the letter".
It appears that the measures announced last night took Jersey by surprise, as External Minister Senator Ian Gorst said the island had been preparing to make “a positive announcement” on granting French licences.
This morning, Jersey's Government confirmed that it would be granting 75% of requested fishing licences - 113 permanent licences, and 49 have been given temporary ones. This is a large rise on the number suggested last month. The number of vessels told they will no longer be allowed to fish, meanwhile, has dropped from 75 to 55.
Les 4 mesures de rétorsion seront mises en place à compter du 2 novembre à l'encontre des Britanniques. Disproportionnées ? Elles ne le sont pas. Nous défendons nos droits, nos pêcheurs et notre littoral.— Annick Girardin (@AnnickGirardin) October 28, 2021
Quand on appose sa signature au bas d'un accord, on le respecte. #RTLMatin pic.twitter.com/r18VQ3njhP
Video: France's Maritime Minister clarified this morning that the electricity threats could, in the first instance, involve the imposition of tariffs.
Ahead of today's announcement, Senator Gorst shared his frustration at the French approach in a short statement last night.
He said: “We are extremely disappointed at today’s announcement from the French government.
“The retaliatory measures outlined are wholly disproportionate, especially as earlier today, officials from the Government of Jersey met colleagues from France, the UK and the EU Commission for further discussions on licensing applications.
“This is a technical issue that is best resolved through our ongoing diplomatic engagement.”
This is a technical issue that is best resolved through our ongoing diplomatic engagement.— Senator Ian Gorst (@Ian_Gorst) October 27, 2021
Brexit Minister Lord David Frost said that the threats appeared to be incompatible with the Brexit deal and "international law".
He added that No 10 stood by Jersey, and that the UK Government was "considering what further action is necessary", vowing an "appropriate and calibrated response" if Paris follows through with its threats.
Reiterating its position in May, when French Minister for the Sea Annick Girardin first threatened to cut Jersey’s electricity supply, Jersey Electricity said were its French supply to be disrupted, the island could generate its own power.
It has a contract with French government-owned company EDF until 2027, so it is not known how that commercial arrangement could be altered without incurring significant penalties.
1/2 It is very disappointing that France has felt it necessary to make threats late this evening against the UK fishing industry and seemingly traders more broadly.— David Frost (@DavidGHFrost) October 27, 2021
We set out our position earlier this evening. https://t.co/2kuHofrWsw pic.twitter.com/kfhH2ML6hz
Asked whether Jersey's hospital has a back-up power supply, Senator Gorst said on Twitter: "I believe it does. We can always fire up the JE power station. But to interrupt our electricity supply in any way, would be a breach of the TCA [the UK-EU Brexit deal, ed.]. Better to provide the log books and get a license if evidenced."
Back in September, Jersey announced that up to 95 small boats could be given a licence, while 75 boats were deemed not to meet the island's criteria nor come anywhere close to it and ordered to stop fishing around the island and its reefs by the end of October.
Senator Gorst met Mme. Girardin in person last week, and technical meetings between Jersey, Brussels and Paris representatives were also held.
The latter meetings, Senator Gorst told Express last week, were a process of "looking at one's homework... sitting down and going through all the evidence to understand if there are remaining concerns" with Jersey's licensing decisions.
It's understood that, following further discussions, Jersey and the UK have suggested that more vessels could receive a licence than initially indicated.
Despite this, M. Attal said at the Elysée press conference on Wednesday that France remained furious.
Pictured: Jersey Electricity has a supply contract with EdF until 2027.
“You know that over the last few weeks, France has adopted the toughest stance in its discussions over fishing licences with the United Kingdom," he said.
“The matter is clear and we’ve said it, we will not let Great Britain wipe their feet off the Brexit deal that has been reached.
“This agreement was meant to allow fishing licences to be issued under certain conditions; this means that the Government [of France] has established a list of licences which we are entitled to.
“We started working with the British: we provided all the data, all the documents, all the information that were requested to support the applications.
“What we find now is that almost half of the licences which we were entitled to are missing. This situation is unacceptable, and I say that very clearly, our patience has run out today.
“This is why a number of meetings have been taking place within the Government to set a number of measures that could be enforced."
#Brexit ???? Cet après-midi, je me suis entretenue avec le Commissaire européen @VSinkevicius au sujet de l'octroi des licences de pêches. Mon message est clair : nous souhaitons recevoir des garanties de la part des Britanniques avant la fin du mois d'octobre. #IWantMyLicensesBack pic.twitter.com/XjeuelM3ui— Annick Girardin (@AnnickGirardin) October 25, 2021
Video: Mme. Girardin posted a video of a conversation with the EU Fisheries Commissioner in which she lamented the state of progress earlier this week.
He continued: “I want to be clear that, in accordance with the treaty, the first step we took was obviously to contact the European Commission, which has the competence to ensure sure the agreements that have been reached under the Brexit deal are being respected.
“There have been several meetings with the Vice President of the Commission, discussions with the President of the Commission, several letters sent by the Prime Minister about this, a request from France to get the Partnership Council together as it has competence over this issue, all of the work of mobilising European institutions has been done.
“Then, there are measures that we can take at a national level. Over the last few weeks, meetings have taken place within the Government to come up with a list of measures.
“This morning, there was an important meeting attended by the Government with local elected officials, presidents of region, presidents of departments and mayors of the regions of Haut-de-France, Normandy and Brittany, to discuss this with them.
“We presented the measures we intend to take. We also asked them about and discussed the measures they could take themselves as part of their regional partnerships, as of course those communities have links with the United Kingdom and can also take measures.
“In practical terms, we are going to announce a detailed list of measures we will take, if there is no change in policy over the licences we are entitled to by next week, obviously.
“Those measures will be detailed either tomorrow or the day after tomorrow in a very clear list but what I can already tell you is that there will be two big sets of measures.
“A first set of measures will be enforced from 2 November, gradually over several days, that will affect produce imported and landed in France, in our ports, with for example systematic custom checks and health inspections on the imported produce landed in Manche ports, along with a ban on landing sea products in our ports, and checks on lorries; this will be the first set of measures.
“Then there will be a second set of measures that will include, among other things, energy measures that will affect the supply of electricity to the Channel Islands.
“The details will be shared over the next hours or days but I want to repeat that our wish is simply for the agreement that has been reached to be respected.
“That’s what has been at the heart of our mobilisation since the beginning. When you sign an agreement, and this is what has been done as part of Brexit, you have to respect this agreement.
“Our patience has run out and we’ve seen a clear determination to not respect the agreement and to not give to our fishermen, who have been very patient, who have waited a lot, who have been exemplary, the licences they have a right to have.
“Obviously, in those circumstances, like I have said before, we will announce a number of measures that will take effect, for some as soon as next Tuesday, for others in the following days.
“There will then be a second set of measures that can be enforced over the following weeks because we want the agreement to be respected and our fishermen to be able to work in accordance with what has been agreed as part of the deal with the British”.
His words were later followed by a statement on behalf of Mme. Girardin's Ministry, which reiterated M. Attal’s points.
It added: “The [French] government maintains its wish to move forward with the United Kingdom in resolving these difficulties linked to the application of the agreement and awaits concrete answers within a few days, both for the Channel Islands and for the six to 12-mile limits.”
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