Ministers have said that Jersey is continuing to follow all the formal processes laid out in the Brexit deal despite difficulties in obtaining the final pieces of information needed to conclude the French fishing row.
Under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), Jersey and France are unable to communicate directly – French fishers must send all information required to obtain a licence to their Government, which in turn sends it to the EU, which sends it to the UK, which sends it to Jersey.
The challenges inherent in the protracted process are understood to have contributed to fishing tensions.
While Jersey’s Chief Minister and External Relations Minister were able to announce an interim solution on Friday, after speaking directly with their French counterparts at the Normandy summit, they emphasised that this was still compliant with the TCA.
Final decisions on which vessels get licences are expected to be made this week. Under the interim solution, vessels that could qualify, if they were to submit a little more information, will be given a temporary licence and have until 31 January 2022 to provide it.
Pictured - from left: Guernsey's External Relations Lead Deputy Jonathon Le Tocq; Jersey's External Relations Minister and Chief Minister, Senators Ian Gorst and John Le Fondré; La Manche President Jean Morin; and Normandy President Hervé Morin.
Senator Gorst however said it was a combination of the official channel and “officials understanding where information gaps might be” which had led to a solution, with a formal announcement on licences due this week ahead of the 30 September amnesty deadline.
“We were extremely mindful in all our conversations this morning about respecting the terms of the post Brexit trade agreement which deals with fishing issues,” he said.
“We know that the TCA envisages a process of information being directed to Paris, Brussels, London and then St. Helier and we all recognised again the importance of that official channel and yet, at the same time we have deep and enduring bonds with our regional colleagues as shown by their presence here today.”
He added that the information and data sent to Jersey was “improving” all the time and that the Government aimed to ensure that boats that have been fishing in Jersey waters historically, and re able to provide the data, will be issued with permanent licences.
The island has twice come under fire after being accused of ‘breaking Brexit’.
Firstly, the European Commission said that conditions Jersey had attached to the licences – such as zones of fishing and maximum number of days at sea – were against the terms of the TCA. On Friday, Jersey’s Government said some conditions had been temporarily suspended, but did not confirm which ones.
Concerns were later raised over Jersey and France’s resolution to communicate directly – including via a fishing licence hotline – which followed emergency talks led by the Home Affairs Minister, Frenchman Deputy Gregory Guida, during French fishers’ protest in St. Helier Harbour in May.
Questioned on Friday about how closely Jersey and France had been working since those emergency talks, the Chief Minister again stressed the importance of following the formal process amid its drive to find a swift resolution.
“Irrespective of how information comes in, we always got to make sure the formal process is followed which is the communication process that goes up from regional, up to Paris, up to Brussels, down to London and down to us,” he said.
Pictured: All the Normandy Summit attendees in Jersey on Friday.
“But there is also other information we can get hold of, which is publicly available, to speed up the process and doing that and working with our colleagues
“With the teams working as well as they have done, I believe that there has been progress, particularly over the last few weeks, particularly having received more data, through I believe the official route, which is still being worked on. But it is certainly true, and we accept that we have to look at this as a French issue rather than an issue for Normandy and Brittany."
“If we can have same the same engagement and relationship which we usually do with our neighbours, then I think the principle that essentially that any fisherman that has fished in our waters can continue to do so can be respected,” he continued.
Senator Gorst then assured that Jersey had respected the TCA’s “very formalised process”, going on to state: “Equally as we know our fishermen and French fishermen, engage and see each other on a daily basis, and work in a friendly way; so we would expect that relationship and the one we have at a political level as well is helping support and move the issues of data forward but equally in a way that respects the recognised channels of the TCA.”
Friday's summit appeared to have calmed tensions in the French camp, with the Presidents of La Manche and Normandy, Jean Morin and Hervé Morin respectively, indicating that they had welcomed the opportunity for a "very frank exchange of views" in person.
Hervé Morin - who was behind the retaliatory decision to close the Maison de Normandie et de la Manche in Halkett Place in May - said he wouldn't be totally won over until this week's licence announcement, however.
"...Seeing is believing and I am waiting to see," he commented, before noting that an "escalation of this conflict" was still possible if the announcement failed to satisfy.
The sentiment was echoed by La Manche's Jean Morin.
Pictured: La Manche's President said he was concerned a further postponement could lead to another protest.
“We could see something along the lines of what happened on 6 May, if not more violent, and this is a serious concern for us because the fishing industry is keen, very impatient, to see a solution arrive,” he said.
Back in May, Express explored the reasons behind the fishing protests in depth, and why the island was being accused of ignoring the TCA on the Bailiwick Podcast...
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