The French government could cut Jersey’s electricity supply in a growing dispute over post-Brexit fishing rights, a French minister has suggested.
Answering questions from the National Assembly, the Minister of Maritime Affairs, Annick Girardin, said she was “revolted” by the British government’s behavior on its waters and that France was ready to retaliate.
The British crown’s dependence on Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands, is based on “the transmission of electricity by submarine cable,” Girardin said as she was questioned by members of the assembly, making the offer a leverage point.
“I would regret it if we could do it,” the minister said, but “we will if we have to”.
The comments mark a major consecutive escalation on claims by French fishermen that they are denied access to UK waters.
David Frost, the former chief Brexit negotiator who is now the minister responsible for relations with the EU, met with the French minister for European affairs, Clément Beaune, on Tuesday afternoon.
It is claimed that the British government is using red tape to restrict the operations of French fishing vessels, in violation of the trade and cooperation agreement reached with the EU on Christmas Eve. The UK government denies this claim, claiming that Jersey is solely responsible for the management of its waters.
On Friday, 41 vessels equipped with vessel monitoring system (VMS) technology, which helps locate vessels, were cleared to fish in the waters off Jersey, which is a self-contained dependency.
Girardin told the French parliament that the list of approved vessels came with new rules “which have not been settled or discussed. [with France], and of which we were not informed ”.
A member of the assembly, Bertrand Sorre, said that a fisherman from Granville, who catches scallops and whelks “on average 40 days a year” in Jersey waters, had been informed that there would be no access only 11 days. “The anger is brewing and the desire to fight is palpable,” Sorre said.
Girardin replied that the French government would act. “It is completely unacceptable,” she said. “If we accept it in Jersey, it is dangerous for our access everywhere.”
France described UK provisions, which it said dictate where ships can and cannot go and how many days ships can spend in the waters and what equipment they can use, as “void and not avenues ”. The UK government has been told it is due to open discussions with the European Commission on the details.
Dimitri Rogoff, president of the Normandy regional fisheries committee, told Agence France-Presse that “there will have to be a response to what the Jersey authorities have done in terms of fishing authorizations. We hope the state will take retaliatory action. “
A Defra spokesperson said: “We are convinced that Jersey is responsible for its own territorial waters. The British government is constitutionally responsible for the international relations of Crown Dependencies. As such, we are working closely with the EU and the Jersey government on arrangements for access to fisheries after the end of the transition period for licensing. “
Last week, Beaune threatened to obstruct UK-based financial firms’ access to the EU market if fishing rights issues persist.
“We are asking for the whole deal, just the deal, and until it is implemented we will take retaliatory action in other areas if necessary,” Beaune said. “The UK expects a number of financial services approvals from us. We will not give it until we have a guarantee that in fisheries and other matters the UK is meeting its commitments. It is give and take. Each side must live up to its commitments, otherwise we will be as brutal and difficult as necessary. “
French fishermen recently blocked off the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer, claiming that only 22 of the 120 boats that usually worked from Hauts-de-France had accessed the area six to 12 miles from the British coast.
The British government rejected the request. He said the UK single issuing authority had issued fishing licenses in the 6 to 12 nautical mile zone to the 87 French vessels that had applied for them and met the qualification criteria. About 40 additional requests required additional information and checks, the government added.