Amongst the goings on this week, you may have missed this bizarre story that France is threatening to switch off Jersey.
The row, which has erupted thanks to the fishing rights of the French fleet in Jersey’s territorial waters, has led to a war of words between our friends in the Channel and their near neighbours.
What is Actually Going On?
To explain what is going on today, we have to look at the deal struck between the UK and EU at the end of the Brexit transition period. Readers may recall that at that time, the Manx gov was making a lot of noise about securing our waters. That deal ensured that only licensed fishermen with a proven track record of fishing in Manx waters could continue to do so post Brexit. Well the same rules apply in Jersey.
So on Friday, 41 ships were authorised by the UK to fish in waters off Jersey but French politicians have said this authorisation had been accompanied by new demands ‘which were not arranged or discussed, and which we were not notified about’.
So despite Jersey being responsible for its own waters, the French are blaming the UK and demanding they sort it out or they will switch off Jersey’s power supply.
Maritime Minister Annick Girardin told the French parliament that new rules governing access to Channel Islands’ waters are ‘unacceptable’. She also said France was ‘ready to use… retaliatory measures’ under the UK-EU post-Brexit trade deal. Ms Giradin added: ‘I am sorry it has come to this [but] we will do so if we have to.’
French officials have also said they will be closing their offices in the Channel Islands and stopping imports of Jersey products into France.
A statement issued by representatives of La Manche region and the Normandy government said: ‘A first crucial deadline was reached on Friday 30 April, when the first licenses were issued, for boats over 12 metres able to demonstrate a track record of having fished, in Jersey waters, for at least ten days over a period of 12 months in the past three years.
‘In an official press release Jersey published a first list of 41 boats. The shipowners concerned received their licence by email. But upon reading the document, Jersey imposes, against all expectations, inexplicable conditions – [the] number of fishing days (to seven from 170 days per year depending on the boat), restriction of fishing gear and closure of the area. At no time, during the many exchanges we had with [External Relations Minister] Ian Gorst was there any question of additional criteria subject to the issuance of licences. We ask the French government to intervene with the European Commission so that the terms provided for in the Trade and Co-operation Agreement are respected and applied.’
Can They Switch off Jersey?
Well physically, much like Mr Burns famously did in the Simpsons, yes they can. Jersey relies heavily on an underwater cable from Normandy for the vast majority of its electricity, whether they would do it or not remains to be seen, but the threat is being taken seriously by Jersey and the UK. However, Westminster is bizarrely not publicly keen to defend Jersey absolutely.
A statement from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: ‘We are clear that Jersey is responsible for its own territorial waters. The UK government is constitutionally responsible for the international relations of the crown dependencies. As such, we have been working closely with the EU and the government of Jersey on fisheries access provisions following the end of the transition period for licensing.’
What Happens Next?
Well they have to talk, the UK is said to be talking to the EU Commission about the issues but neither side is budging from its position, at least not publicly. The UK and Jersey are insisting that they are acting properly and the French fishermen and their politicians insist they aren’t.
What About Us?
This situation doesn’t really have much impact for the Isle of Man, but it is interesting to see the new rules and regulations in action and how it is impacting on those who rely on fishing for their living. We have very few, if any, French fishermen making the trip up to Manx waters, but we do have a number of fishermen from Ireland. However we don’t rely on Ireland for our electricity and so far no issues have risen to the surface.