France and Britain deploy navy patrol boats to Jersey in dispute over fishing rights

HMS Tamar is deployed as French fishing boats sail into harbour to protest against new fishing licenses on May 6, 2021 in St Helier, Jersey.

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LONDON — France sent two navy patrol boats to the British Channel Island of Jersey on Thursday as tensions with the U.K. grow following the latter’s departure from the European Union.

The latest French move follows the U.K. government’s decision on Wednesday to send two of its own military boats to the region. Comments by France’s Maritime Affairs Minister Annick Girardin sparked the British move, after she told French lawmakers that France could cut supplies of electricity to Jersey — a small self-governing dependency of the United Kingdom that lies between England and France.

The core of their dispute is over fishing rights.

French fishermen are angry and have complained of tougher conditions placed upon the issuance of fishing licenses. A group of French vessels sailed to Jersey’s port of St Helier on Thursday to protest.

However, authorities in Jersey have denied these accusations, saying they are following the rules established in the U.K.-EU trade deal when issuing fishing permits.

The French maritime affairs ministry was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC on Thursday.

A spokesperson for the U.K. government said Wednesday: “To threaten Jersey like this is clearly unacceptable and disproportionate.”

The island’s main source of electricity comes from France.

The European Commission, which negotiated the trade deal with the U.K., said on Thursday that the bloc is engaging in good faith to solve the dispute with the British government.

Fisheries were one of the main stumbling blocks in trade negotiations between the U.K. and the EU. While the U.K. was a member of the EU, fishermen from both sides could work in each other’s waters and sell fish freely within the Union.

However, this freedom changed slightly in January, once the U.K.’s transition period out of the EU ended.

Under the new trade agreement, EU boats can continue to fish in U.K. waters, but U.K. fishermen will get a higher share of fish from U.K. waters through a phased-in approach. The deal also says that the U.K. could end the right of EU boats to fish in U.K. waters after 2026.

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