The United Kingdom has dispatched two navy patrol boats to the British Channel island of Jersey amid an escalating row with France over post-Brexit fishing rights.
French trawler crews angry at restrictions placed on their access to UK fishing grounds after the latter’s departure from the European Union sailed to Jersey in a flotilla in the early hours of Thursday to register their protest.
A website that tracks marine traffic showed around 25 French-registered vessels were located near Jersey’s main port of St Helier shortly afterwards. Some of the French flotilla entered the port’s harbour during their protest.
The UK said it had sent the two naval gunboats, which arrived later on Thursday morning, to “monitor the situation” in the waters surrounding the island in response.
Jersey sits 14 miles (23 kilometres) off the northern French coast and 85 miles (140 km) south of the UK mainland’s shores.
Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, reporting from onboard a French fishing vessel at the scene, said disagreements between the UK and France over post-Brexit fishing rights that have been rumbling for weeks were now “escalating” with both sides “upping the rhetoric”.
France has warned it could cut off electricity to Jersey amid the row, a threat the UK has branded “unacceptable”.
‘This is not a blockade’
Thursday’s stand-off came after Jersey’s government said the island had issued new fishing permits, which included new conditions for license-holders, in accordance with post-Brexit trade terms between the UK and EU.
Under the trade deal brokered between London and Bruseels, Jersey must allow European vessels into its waters.
But the new fishing permits issued by the UK dependency have angered French trawler crews and the French government, who said the new terms had been imposed unilaterally and without discussion, and that they placed unfair restrictions on French fishing vessels.
A representative for the Normandy regional fishing committee, which helped organise Thursday’s protest, said the French flotilla would not seek to impede access to Jersey ports, or stop local fishing vessels from operating.
“The objective is to express our unhappiness about the restrictive measures that were imposed,” the representative, Hugo Lehuby, told Reuters by telephone.
“This is not a blockade,” he said. “It’s not our objective to smash stuff up.” He said he expected the flotilla to return to their home ports by the end of Thursday.
Al Jazeera’s Butler said the “livelihoods” of those taking part in the protest were at stake.
“The French fishing community here say they will not be able to survive unless they regain access to these waters,” she added.