It’s polling day for the local elections but the focus of the government is on Jersey, where a row has broken out over post-Brexit fishing rights. After 80 French boats gathered at St Helier in protest over new licences required for fishing there, the UK hit back by sending two British naval patrol vessels as a precautionary measure. Now the French government has sent naval ships of its own and a war of words is underway between the two sides.
France’s Sea Minister Annick Girardin was the first to up the ante – suggesting the fishing restrictions could lead to France turning Jersey’s electricity off. She used a public statement to say: ‘We have the means, and even though I’m sorry it has come to this, we will do so if we have to.’
The UK government has in turn criticised the ‘unacceptable and disproportionate’ threats while Boris Johnson has thrown ‘his unequivocal support’ behind Jersey. The anonymous UK government briefings are rather more fruity – comparing this to the second world war when even the Germans didn’t turn the lights off.
Where will this all end up? The European Commission has called for calm but the situation remains unstable to say the least. Politically in the short term, the UK government talking tough to the EU over Brexit is unlikely to do Johnson much harm – particularly on polling day. It might actually do the opposite. However, while this current war of words may play well to a domestic audience on both sides, it does point to wider problems with the UK-EU relationship in future.
While it’s the French government that escalated tensions with the threat to Jersey’s electricity, the fact that such disputes are already leading to blow-ups points to trouble ahead when it comes to establishing a constructive post-Brexit relationship between the two sides.