Trouble Erupts Between NATO Allies UK & France; Both London & Paris Deploy Naval Vessels

Amid a fishing row with its NATO ally France, the UK has sent patrol warships to the Jersey Island in the English Channel as tensions between the two nations escalate. 

In response, France despatched two maritime patrol boats to the waters off the British Channel island of Jersey.

An official from the French presidential administration said the deployment of the French boats “speaks to our concern, and frustration, and is an appeal, which we will also express, for the correct application of agreements,” sealed when Britain left the EU, Reuters reported.

The official said the deployment of patrol vessels from both France and Britain was aimed at maintaining order and preventing clashes between trawlers on opposing sides of the row.

Following the signing of the EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) on December 30, 2020, Britain had hoped that the arduous process of Brexit was over. But differences over certain “technical details” in the pact have now sparked tensions between the UK and France.

Jersey is the largest of islands in the English Channel, located between the UK and France. Although it is geographically closer to the French mainland, Jersey’s loyalties lay with the UK since the Norman Conquest a thousand years ago.

But instead of being considered a part of the United Kingdom, Jersey enjoys greater autonomy as a Crown Dependency.

This freedom is reflected in the fact that Jersey has been acknowledged as the sole power to issue fishing permits under the TCA. Licenses had not been necessary when the UK was a part of the EU and French fishermen had free access to Jersey’s waters.

But French fishermen argue that the spirit of the agreement, which promises to safeguard the activities and livelihoods of European fishing communities, is not being honored. Last week, Jersey had issued rules which had not been specified under the trade deal.

It granted licenses to only 41 French boats which were able to prove that they had fished in Jersey waters for at least 10 days over a period of 12 months in the past three years.

Furthermore, the licenses are equipped with technology that allows the tracking of their location.

Despite the UK’s best efforts to prevent a hard barrier with the rest of Europe, Jersey residents have already spoken of obstacles to free movement across the English Channel.

Chris Le Masurier, who runs Jersey Oyster and Normandy Trader Freight, explained to Jersey’s Environment, Housing and Infrastructure Scrutiny Panel in February that his company, instead of having access to the nearest port of Granville, is being forced to use the more distant port of St. Malo for the new set of inspection.

France-UK Clash

Reacting to what is seen as ‘one-sided rules’, France’s minister for maritime affairs, Annick Girardin, on May 4 threatened to block Jersey’s electricity supply, 95% of which comes from France through three underwater cables, according to The Guardian.

“I am sorry it has come to this [but] we will do so if we have to,” Girardin had told the French Parliament.

Jersey’s chief minister, John Le Fondré, warned of sending French fishing boats to cut off the island’s main port. In response, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson decided to deploy two Royal Navy river-class offshore patrol vessels, HMS Severn and HMS Tamar, calling the move “precautionary measures.”

British Senator and Jersey’s Minister of External Affairs Ian Gorst had stated that what Johnson had called as “precautionary measures” was “not an overreaction”. Dozens of French boats had gathered near the island’s St Helier port on Thursday morning, blocking a freight vessel.

Dimitri Rogoff, head of fisheries for France’s Normandy region, had earlier said that as many as 100 French fishing vessels would sail to Jersey’s port on May 6 to protest against the new rules.

Jersey fishermen faced an internal crisis as some of its ships sailed to protest alongside French ones while some stayed behind to prevent a French blockade.

Interestingly, HMS Severn, which was deployed to shadow the UK’s Cold War-era adversary Russia, is now being used against a NATO ally as it looms near the Jersey coast.

The larger HMS Tamar with its displacement of more than 2,000 tons, is equipped with two miniguns. It also recently acquired a “dazzle camouflage. This style of contrasting shapes, angles and colors was last used in World War II to make it difficult for enemy submarines to judge the direction and speed of British ships.

Tension has been running high since the trade deal. Recently France’s EU affairs minister had stated that London would suffer if the British government reneged on its commitments on fishing.

Gorst had said that a blockade was “very possible” as “[the French] have done so with our sister Channel island [Guernsey] in the past, in the 90s.” But he doesn’t believe an electricity supply termination will happen as it is a commercial contract.

According to the latest BBC reports, a French naval vessel was also seen heading to the Jersey shore where the two Royal Navy warships loom large.

“Frustrations are running very high,” Gorst said.