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Royal Navy ships ordered to Jersey as French fishermen prepare blockade


Offshore patrol vessels are heading to Jersey – LPhot Phil Bloor/Royal Navy

The Royal Navy is being deployed to Jersey amid fears that French fishermen will blockade the island’s main port on Thursday as the row over post-Brexit fishing arrangements escalates.

On Wednesday night, Boris Johnson sent two patrol vessels to St Helier following a phone call with Senator John Le Fondré, Jersey’s Chief Minister.

More than 60 French fishing vessels are expected to arrive in the port on Thursday to protest over access to the waters around the island.

The fishermen – angered by Jersey’s decision to place new restrictions on fishing licences permitting access to its waters – have threatened to bring the island “to its knees”.

On Wednesday night, a Downing Street spokesman said: “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.”

On Wednesday night the Ministry of Defence said HMS Tamar, which was commissioned last year and is equipped with machine guns, had been deployed and would arrive today. The second, HMS Severn, is also on its way.

Boris Johnson 'underlined his unwavering support for Jersey' and said any blockade 'would be completely unjustified' - Hollie Adams/ Bloomberg

Boris Johnson ‘underlined his unwavering support for Jersey’ and said any blockade ‘would be completely unjustified’ – Hollie Adams/ Bloomberg

Lord Frost, the Cabinet minister in charge of EU relations, also held talks in Westminster on Wednesday night to co-ordinate the UK’s response should the fishermen carry out their threat.

The row began on Tuesday when Annick Girardin, the French Minister of the Sea, said her country was prepared to cut Jersey’s energy supply unless it relented over access to UK waters.

The island – which gets 95 per cent of its energy from France – granted access to its waters to 41 French fishing vessels when 344 had applied for licences.

Paris also accuses it of unilaterally introducing new conditions beyond the Brexit deal, which limit where French fishermen can go and for how long and what machinery they can use. That prompted Ms Girardin to issue her threat over electricity.

On Wednesday, government sources accused Paris of sinking lower than Jersey’s Nazi occupiers during the Second World War. “At least when the Germans invaded they kept the lights on,” a source said.

Under the terms of the Brexit trade deal and fishing agreement, EU boats must prove they have fished waters in the past in order to get licences to continue operating around Jersey.

Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, and the trade minister Greg Hands have contacted their French counterparts to raise concerns over what the UK believes to be a clear provocation.

The Telegraph now understands that Britain is drawing up plans to retaliate by reviewing its energy links with France in the wake of the row. A Whitehall source described France’s actions as “outrageous” and said the UK would have to take a more cautious view of the nation as an energy partner.

It is understood Britain could look at routing future giant power cable projects towards the Netherlands, which it now views as a more reliable partner than France, which a source said had “weaponised” its electricity exports.

It comes as the flotilla of French fishing boats is to set sail for St Helier. Didier Leguelinel, of the Normandy fishing committee, warned: “The general feeling is that we have been insulted by the Jersey government.”

He told The Telegraph he could not stop the fleet of furious fishermen from blockading Jersey. Fishermen shouted: “We’re going to block St Helier and stop [Jersey] fishermen from unloading their fish products in our ports” during a meeting on Monday.

Gorey Harbour on the Channel Island of Jersey, which faces a blockade by French fishermen - Toby Melville/Reuters

Gorey Harbour on the Channel Island of Jersey, which faces a blockade by French fishermen – Toby Melville/Reuters

David Sellam, the head of the joint Normandy-Brittany sea authority, said: “We are confronted by people who are not trustworthy. Jersey has been taken over by an extremist fringe who want to reduce French fishing access and profit from Brexit.

“We’re ready for war. We can bring Jersey to its knees if necessary.”

Jersey, the self-governing British Crown dependency with 108,000 residents, receives its electricity from France through three undersea cables. The remaining five per cent is largely from on-island diesel generators and gas.

The Telegraph understands that a review of energy links with France is being discussed. Currently, Britain imports around eight per cent of its power from foreign nations and Northern Ireland via the underwater interconnectors.

But as the UK becomes more reliant on wind power, there are plans to increase its foreign electricity imports to around 25 per cent by building new underwater cables which can be relied upon when wind power supplies are low.

However, Whitehall sources suggested France could now be cut out of any deal to provide energy in the wake of its threat to Jersey.

Whitehall discussions over the future of energy links with France could jeopardise a controversial project, led by the Tory donor Alexander Temerko, to build a £1.1 billion power cable between Hampshire and Le Havre, which his company Aquind says will be able to provide enough electricity for about five million homes.

However, the row is not expected to affect the Government’s attitude towards EDF, the French state-owned utility which is in negotiations about building a new nuclear power station, Sizewell C in Suffolk. EDF is already building Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in Somerset.

Plans for Aquind’s project have been examined by the UK’s planning inspectorate, which has until June 8 to submit a recommendation to Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary.

On Wednesday night, Mr Temerko suggested a connection to Jersey could be added to his or other interconnectors, cutting the island’s reliance on its own undersea cables to France.

Commenting on France’s threat to the Channel Island, he said: “Today we have a problem with fish regulations, yesterday it was vaccines, tomorrow it will be something else. We cannot threaten each other and put at risk vital gas or electricity supplies. We need to avoid putting people under humanitarian risk.

“We need to de-escalate it – any escalation is bad for business.”



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