Boris Johnson’s ‘global Britain’ ambitions became a source of mockery on social media last night after it was announced the PM will be sending in gunboats over fishing rights rows in the Channel.
Two Royal Navy vessels are now patrolling waters around the self-governing dependency amid concerns of a possible blockade of the island due to an ongoing row with France.
HMS Severn and HMS Tamar have been deployed by the UK Government to “monitor the situation” at the Channel Island amid a protest by French fishing vessels at the port of St Helier over the lack of access.
French maritime minister Annick Girardin warned on Tuesday that the country is ready to take “retaliatory measures”, accusing Jersey of dragging its feet over issuing new licences to French boats.
“Strictly precautionary measure”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke to Jersey Chief Minister Senator John Le Fondre and External Affairs Minister Ian Gorst on Wednesday, and “underlined his unwavering support” for the island.
Dozens of French boats arrived at the harbour on Thursday morning, with some crews setting off flares during the so far peaceful protest, according to the Jersey Evening Post.
Paris has warned it could cut off power to the island, which receives 95 per cent of its electricity from France through three undersea cables, in retaliation for the fallout.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “HMS Severn and HMS Tamar are deploying to Jersey to conduct maritime security patrols.
“This is a strictly precautionary measure and has been agreed with the Jersey Government.”
A Downing Street spokesman added: “The Prime Minister and Chief Minister stressed the urgent need for a de-escalation in tensions and for dialogue between Jersey and France on fishing access.
“The Prime Minister underlined his unwavering support for Jersey.
“He said that any blockade would be completely unjustified.
“As a precautionary measure the UK will be sending two offshore patrol vessels to monitor the situation.
“They agreed the UK and Jersey Governments would continue to work closely on this issue.”
“We take these threats very seriously”
Speaking to BBC Newsnight on Wednesday, Mr Gorst said: “We take these threats from both Paris and the French fishermen very seriously.
“They are disproportionate to the issues that are being experienced in the post-Brexit trade licensing issuing.”
The row began after the island implemented new requirements under the terms of the UK-EU trade deal for boats to submit evidence of their past fishing activities in order to receive a licence to carry on operating in Jersey waters.
On Wednesday, Mr Gorst held talks with Marc Lefevre, the president of the La Manche region of northern France, on the “difficult set of issues relating to fishing licences”.
“There are a number of important matters which we will continue to work through,” he said.
Ms Girardin told the French parliament that it gave Paris the “means” to act against the island if the issue could not be resolved.
“Even though I am sorry that it has come to this, we will do so if we have to,” she said.
Mr Gorst, however, said the island is not seeking to bar boats which have historically fished in Jersey waters and insisted the dispute can be resolved amicably.
He said that of the 41 boats which sought licences under the new rules last Friday, all but 17 had provided the evidence required.
“The trade deal is clear but I think there has been some confusion about how it needs to be implemented, because we absolutely respect the historic rights of French fishermen to fish in Jersey waters as they have been doing for centuries,” he said.
“I do think a solution can be found.
“I am optimistic that we can provide extra time to allow this evidence to be provided.”
Social media was abuzz with reaction as the news broke. Here’s what people had to say:
I personally negotiated the UK fisheries agreement between France and the Channel Islands in (from memory) 1991, while Head of Maritime Section at the FCO.— Craig Murray (@CraigMurrayOrg) May 5, 2021
It was heated, esp in Cherbourg
I cannot believe how stupid, on every level, it is to send gunboats.https://t.co/ZeQE58A4BP
Those two royal navy boats are going to Jersey for no other reason than the local elections tomorrow— Cirian75 #YNWA 62.5% ?? 25% ?? 12.5% ?? (@cirian75) May 5, 2021
If you’re thinking otherwise
You have been had
Global Britain.— Dr Mike Galsworthy (@mikegalsworthy) May 5, 2021
We used to be a leading part of the globe’s largest single market.
Now we send gunboats into our own channel to see off angry fishing boats from our next-door neighbours. pic.twitter.com/Ti3kvADgZM
Vast crowds gather as the British fleet sets sail for Jersey pic.twitter.com/A93aVQZ25e— Simon Gosden. Esq. #fbpe 3.5% ??????☠️?? (@g_gosden) May 6, 2021
On their way to Jersey . pic.twitter.com/Qa0wiCylOq— jercor (@jercor1) May 6, 2021