The French government on Thursday accused the Channel island of Jersey of refusing to cooperate on post-Brexit fishing licences, rekindling tensions just weeks after Paris threatened to impose sanctions.
The island, a British crown dependency off the coast of northern France, is at the centre of a row about the granting of licences to French fisherman following the UK’s departure from the European Union.
“It is obvious beyond doubt that Jersey is not respecting the Brexit deal,” French Maritime Minister Annick Girardin said during a meeting with fishing representatives in northwest France.
“Worse, it is showing an unwillingness to cooperate with us,” she added.
She said that 46 requests for licences from French fisherman had received no reply from the Jersey authorities, while another 52 licences had expired at the end of October “denying these fishermen access to Jersey waters.”
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She said the government was preparing a rescue plan of 40 to 60 million euros ($45-$70 million) for French boat owners being forced to remain in port due to the loss of licenses.
“I hate talking about the idea of financing boats that don’t go out to sea as much as you do, but in all transparency we do need to organise the possibility of fleet reductions,” she said.
The plan raised alarm among fishermen and local officials, who saw it as an ominous sign that France would fail in convincing Jersey to comply with the post-Brexit trade accords.
“The battle is not lost, and negotiations are not over… I cannot accept that we start a massive move to destroy boats,” said Loig Chesnais-Girard, president of the Brittany region.
“We need diplomacy and the capacity to carry through with these talks so that the agreement is respected, because you know as well as I, if we give up on this, there will be other issues” subject to post-Brexit dispute, he said.
Post-Brexit trade war?
At the end of October, France threatened to ban British boats from unloading their catches at French ports and to subject all British imports to inspections, raising the prospect of a trade war between the neighbours.
Girardin has previously raised the possibility of restricting electricity exports to Jersey, which depends on the French mainland for its power.
Several rounds of talks between the British and French governments this month had soothed tensions and staved off the threat of sanctions, but without finding a durable solution.
France views Britain and Jersey as unfairly targeting French boats by either denying them licences or failing to respond to requests, undermining the deal between Britain and the European Union which guaranteed EU fishermen continuing access to British waters.
Britain and Jersey deny the accusations and say that the rejected French boats have been unable to prove that they previously fished in UK waters, now a condition for obtaining a license.
Analysts say relations between Britain and France are at their lowest in decades due to tensions over Brexit as well as cross-Channel migration.
Paris was also furious with London after learning it had taken part in secret talks with the US and Australia to form an Indo-Pacific defence pact, which saw Canberra scrap a huge submarine order from France.