France and Britain deployed maritime patrol vessels to the waters off the Channel island of Jersey on Thursday as a dispute over post-Brexit fishing rights escalated.
The European Union called for calm over the row, which on Thursday saw a flotilla of French trawlers sail in protest to Jersey’s main harbour and a French minister suggest earlier in the week that Paris might cut electricity to the island.
French fishermen say they are being unfairly deprived of access to rich fishing grounds off the coast of Jersey, a self-governing British Crown Dependency.
Jersey says it is following the rules for issuing licenses set out in Britain’s post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who led the 2016 Brexit campaign, had cast the trade deal as a way to take back control of the United Kingdom’s destiny after Brexit.
On Thursday, he said the two Royal Navy vessels would remain off Jersey as a precautionary measure, according to his office.
An official from the French presidency said the deployment of patrol vessels from both France and Britain was aimed at preventing clashes between trawlers on opposing sides of the row.
France is angry on April 30 Jersey issued 41 licenses with what the Paris government called unilaterally imposed conditions, including the time French fishing vessels could spend in Jersey’s waters.
Jersey officials have said the accord stipulates licenses take into account how much time a vessel spent in Jersey’s waters before Brexit.
The Europe Commission said that until further justifications had been provided by Britain, Jersey officials should not be attaching new conditions to the issuance of licenses.
“Full compliance with the TCA (Brexit trade deal) is essential in this process,” Commission spokeswoman Vivian Loonela told a news briefing.
A fleet of about 50 fishing boats approached Jersey, which lies 14 miles off northern French shores and 85 miles from Britain’s southern coast, at dawn, with some crew holding red flares aloft.
At least one French trawler entered the harbour and briefly blocked the Commodore Goodwill, a cargo vessel and ferry that connects the Channel islands to the British mainland.
The French presidency official said the deployment of patrol vessels spoke of France’s concern and frustration, as well as a desire “for the correct application of agreements,” sealed when Britain left the EU.
Ship-tracking website marinetraffic.com showed one of the two French vessels, Athos, located approximately 20 km south-east of Jersey.
It was at least 20 km away from the two British naval vessels, the HMS Severn and HMS Tamar, which were on the south-western side of the island.
Jersey government officials said they would meet representatives of the protesters to listen to their concerns.