New licenses were issued last week. French officials, accusing Britain of breaking its Brexit agreements, were dismayed; one official warned this week that France could cut off Jersey’s power supply, which comes via underwater cables from France.
In protest, French boats threatened to block access to a port near St. Helier, the capital of Jersey. On Wednesday, Britain responded by dispatching two British Navy vessels as a “precautionary measure,” according to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office.
On Thursday, France deployed two naval patrol boats to “ensure the safety of navigation” as well as the “safety of human life at sea,” according to a spokeswoman for the French maritime authorities in charge of the English Channel.
That’s quite an escalation.
Yes. And the dispute has been played dramatically in much of the British news media, as the lead story in several newspapers and websites, even as politically significant elections played out on Thursday.
The British fishing industry has little economic significance but carries substantial emotional, symbolic and, therefore, political weight and was a major sticking point in Brexit talks. Many in the industry, which backed Brexit, thinking they would gain the rights to more fish, felt betrayed when they were forced to share too much of the fish caught in British waters with others.
Some saw the theatrics as entirely unnecessary. Craig Murray, a former British ambassador who said he had negotiated the fisheries agreement in the early 1990s, did not mince words on Twitter.
“I cannot believe how stupid, on every level, it is to send gunboats,” he wrote, referring to the naval ships.
With the dispersal of the French fishing boats, the immediate crisis was defused. The authorities in Jersey, however, have yet to grant licenses for smaller French vessels, leaving the question of Jersey fishing rights as a possible flash point.