The European Commission has accused Britain of not respecting the Brexit trade deal as a face-off developed near the Channel island of Jersey over fishing rights.
The rights dispute has become more urgent in the last 24 hours after an apparent blockade by French boats, and after France and Britain both sent two naval vessels to the area.
The commission said it was only alerted on April 30 that the British authorities had granted 41 licences to EU vessels for fishing in Jersey’s territorial waters as of May 1 with specific conditions.
It added that under the trade deal, proposed conditions “have to be notified in advance” to allow the other side time to assess the proposal. In the commission’s view, the notification period, in this case, was too short.
“The Commission has clearly indicated to the UK the provisions of the EU-UKTCA have not been respected,” a spokesperson for the commission said.
The two French boats are in French waters near the island, the AFP news agency reported on Thursday, citing the responsible maritime prefecture.
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It was a precautionary measure to save lives if necessary, the report said.
Similarly, the British government said the British vessels’ deployment was precautionary measure to avoid any possible blockade of the island.
Fishermen from France have reportedly used their boats to show their anger. The French fishing boats had positioned themselves in the harbour of St Helier on Thursday morning in such a way that fishing boats from Jersey could not leave, the broadcaster France 3 reported.
The boats had had set out during the night from around the coastal town of Barneville-Carteret accompanied by some fishermen from Brittany in the direction of Jersey, France 3 reported.
According to AFP, more than 50 French fishing boats have gathered off St Helier.
France’s Secretary of State for Europe Clement Beaune told AFP the British naval manoeuvres “need not impress” the French side.
He had spoken to British Brexit Minister David Frost, he said. “It is not our wish to create tension,” he said. On the other hand, rules laid down in the post-Brexit trade agreement had to be applied quickly and in full, he said.
After the British left the EU, there had been a dispute over total fish catches and their distribution.
Annoyed by the allegedly slow granting of fishing licences by the Channel Island to French fishermen, French Marine Minister Annick Girardin had threatened retaliatory measures, hinting at cutting off Jersey’s power supply via a submarine cable.
A spokesperson for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday that he had spoken the leaders in Jersey.
“The prime minister reiterated his unequivocal support for Jersey and confirmed that the two Royal Navy Offshore Patrol Vessels would remain in place to monitor the situation as a precautionary measure,” the spokesperson said.
Jersey, as a British crown estate, is not part of the United Kingdom, but London is responsible for its foreign and defence policy.
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