The U.K. sent two patrol ships Wednesday to the island of Jersey, the British territory off the coast of France, to defend it from a maritime blockade threatened by French fishermen.
The two gunboats have begun to patrol the waters around the Channel Islands, ready to face off against French fishing boats in whose support the Paris has sent two patrol boats from the French fleet.
The dispute has arisen following Brexit as to who controls the waters around Jersey. A spokesperson for Prime Minister Boris Johnson was quoted as saying by AFP, “(There is) an urgent need for a de-escalation in tensions and for dialogue between Jersey and France on fishing access.”
The dispute stems from the Brexit fisheries agreement; European fishermen have gained access to British waters until 2026, but the boats must prove they have operated in those areas in the past.
The Jersey authorities on this basis denied access to dozens of French fishing boats, sparking a threat to blockade the island with fishing boats. On Tuesday, a flotilla of at least 60 boats was ready to set sail for Jersey and block its port. The French fishermen were heard shouting “we will bring Jersey to its knees.”
On Monday, unnamed French officials threatened to cut electricity to the island, which depends on France for its power supply. “Even the Nazis had left the light on,” social media posts from Britishers commented referring to the German occupation during the World War II.
Jersey and the other Channel Islands are closer to France than to Britain. Jersey receives most of its electricity from France, supplied through undersea cables.
French maritime minister Annick Girardin warned Tuesday that France was ready to take “retaliatory measures,” accusing Jersey of stalling in issuing licenses to French boats under the terms of the U.K.’s post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union.
Britain’s government said earlier Wednesday that the French threat was “clearly unacceptable and disproportionate” and that it was working with the EU and Jersey over the fishing matter following the end of the Brexit transition period.