Local fishermen are urging Jersey’s Government to start preparing its own retaliatory measures against France, as G20 discussions between Macron and Johnson left little hope of a resolution to the licence row by tomorrow.
France has said it will start imposing progressive retaliatory measures from Tuesday if it doesn’t get all the fishing licences it wants, including heightened checks across six ports and a block on landing catch for Jersey and UK fishing vessels, and tariffs on electricity supplied to Jersey.
Based on evidence of previous fishing activity received, Jersey has so far given 162 boats permission to fish in its territorial waters – 75% of the total licences requested by France, and 70% more than announced in September.
While the island attempted to smooth the licence-granting process by offering to accept logbooks, rather than GPS and technical data, the Government said last week that it still didn’t have enough evidence for 55 boats – all of which were banned from fishing around Jersey from yesterday.
Jersey maintains, however, that “the door remains open for further data to be submitted” – though it’s understood that many of the refused vessels are Breton boats that rarely, if at all, took the opportunity to fish around Jersey when they still had the right to do so under the old Bay of Granville agreement.
If France goes ahead with its “unacceptable” sanctions from tomorrow, the Jersey Fishermens’ Association (JFA) says it wants to see the island respond in kind by closing off its whelk and scallop fisheries, and banning dredging and trawling in island waters “with immediate effect for a period of six weeks”.
Pictured: Don Thompson, President of the Jersey Fishermens’ Association, wants “decisive” action from Jersey’s Government.
As a “last resort”, the JFA say the Government should consider the “revocation of all licences”.
JFA President Don Thompson – who met with Ministers on Friday – said: “…We now have a situation where our local fleet are tied up as Jersey's fish exporters are prevented from accessing European markets and our fishermen are unable to land into France.
“At the same time, we watch as French vessels continue to fish with licenses valued at £14m (issued free of charge by Jersey) in Jersey waters, on Jersey's fish stocks and land back into France without constraint.
“…Jersey's government must take a firmer stance in order to avoid ongoing hostility, risk to our electricity supply, food security, our marine environment and our economy.”
Action from France tomorrow seems very likely after both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President Emmanuel Macron dug their heels over the fishing row.
After a private word on the matter during a climate-focused G20 summit in Rome, President Macron said he wanted “de-escalation” and had presented a proposal to achieve this to Mr Johnson.
Video: President Macron answered questions about the fishing row during a G20 press conference.
He continued: "...We’re talking about the livelihoods of men and women who depend on their work, who spend days and nights at sea to feed their families. Suddenly, because the agreement isn’t respected, they’re told, ‘You can’t live from your work, it’s finished.’
"We have to be serious. I don’t want to increase tensions, but we must be serious. We’ve been working at this for 10 months. Some licences have been given, that’s great. A lot haven’t, for reasons we still can’t understand."
Concluding, he said the “ball is in Britain’s court”, noting that: “If the British don’t budge, the 2 November measures will have to be put in place.”
President Macron’s comments came after a leaked letter from French Prime Minister Jean Castex to European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen about the fishing crisis showed how he had said it is “vital to make clear… that there are more downsides to leaving the European Union to remaining in it.”
Responding in a G20 press conference, Mr Johnson said his position on fish was “unchanged” and that he was “puzzled” by M. Castex’s letter.
NEW: Huge escalation of French fishing row tonight— Alex Wickham (@alexwickham) October 29, 2021
Extraordinary letter from French PM Jean Castex to European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen obtained by POLITICO
France tells Brussels it must demonstrate that Britain has been damaged by leaving the EU pic.twitter.com/MjPUnIIBjL
"I just have to say to everybody I don't believe that that is compatible either with the spirit or the letter of the Withdrawal Agreement or the Trade and Cooperation agreement, and that's probably all I'll say about that one," he added.
A Number 10 spokesperson told reporters in Rome after: “It will be for the French to decide where they want to step away from threats they’ve made in recent days about breaching the Brexit agreement.”
“We’ll see where we are on 2 November,” an Elysée official later said, “We’re not there yet. One thing at a time.”
A decision to block ports to fishers from Jersey – which had no say in the Brexit vote – will shut off their main source of revenue, as most land their catch in France due to a lack of on-island commercial processing facilities.
Video: Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he had a “frank” discussion with President Macron on fishing.
Seeking to fend of threats of reprisals, Jersey’s Government has for months emphasised that any licence refusals have been on purely technical grounds – not political ones.
That message was repeated by UK Brexit Minister Lord Frost, who tweeted on Saturday: “We have been in talks with the EU Commission for weeks on fisheries licensing… We do so in good faith & are fully delivering on our TCA obligation - to license vessels which can prove they have actually fished previously in our 6-12nm limit.”
Lord Frost added that, as he had stated to European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic on Friday, allowing France to follow through on its threats from Tuesday “would put the EU in breach of its obligations under our trade agreement.”
He said the UK was therefore considering launching dispute settlement proceedings set out under Article 738 of the Brexit deal.
7 For our part we will continue to implement our obligations under the TCA. We will continue to talk constructively to try to resolve all the differences between us, and we urge the EU and France to step back from rhetoric and actions that make this more difficult. /ENDS— David Frost (@DavidGHFrost) October 30, 2021
The post was dismissed as “spin” by France’s European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune on his own Twitter page.
“After 10 months, when such a significant amount of licences, targeting one country, is missing, it’s not a technical issue, it’s a political choice and a breach of the TCA. A friend, ally and responsible partner should stand by its world and comply with legal commitments.
“This is why France asks for action at the EU level, within the framework of the TCA, and stands ready to implement proportionate and reversible measures from November 2nd, as we have announced repeatedly since last April. These measures are fully in line with the TCA.”
This morning, Foreign Affairs Secretary Liz Truss said that, if the French do not back down within 48 hours, the UK Government will use “the mechanisms of our trade agreement with the EU to take action” - something she said “could lead to taking direct action in trade”.
The European Commission has so far steered clear of publicly backing either side on the matter of sanctions.
1/ Following the Brexit deal (TCA), access was due to be granted within days to EU boats. We have now been negotiating patiently and constructively for 10 months, replying to a series of detailed and additional requests from British authorities, boat by boat.— Clement Beaune (@CBeaune) October 31, 2021
When the threats to Jersey were announced last week, the Commission resisted questions from Express over whether France had approached it in advance about the proposed sanctions and whether or not it endorsed them.
A spokesperson commented: “The top priority for the Commission is to resolve the licensing issue as soon as possible, and that’s what we have been working on in the past weeks and months, and will continue to do so.
“We will carefully assess specific actions.”
Express contacted Jersey’s Government yesterday to ask for its response to the latest updates on the fishing row, including the JFA’s calls.
In a joint statement issued this morning, the Environment and External Relations Ministers did not address these points but reiterated that Jersey has issued 49 temporary licences to French boats - all of which have until 31 January 2022 "to provide further data which is necessary to secure a permanent licence under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement."
They added: "Jersey remains open to receiving further data for vessels that currently have no licence, and new applications can be submitted at any time.
"We will continue to work closely with French authorities, the UK and the EU Commission – in accordance with the TCA – to ensure that vessels which are entitled to a licence are able to receive one and continue fishing in Jersey’s territorial waters in accordance with their historic track record."
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