British Prime Minister Boris Johnson sent two Navy patrol vessels to Jersey on Wednesday out of concern that French fishermen could block the main port in an escalating post-Brexit feud.
France warned on Tuesday that it was weighing up its response after the UK imposed rules on access for French fishing boats near the Channel Islands, saying it could source electricity from underwater cables.
French fishermen also plan to meet at the island’s main port, St Helier on Thursday, although authorities have said they have no intention of blocking access.
But Johnson announced on Wednesday that he was sending two patrol vessels “as a precaution,” adding that a blockade would be “completely unjustified.”
British MP Tobias Ellwood accused France of “disgraceful conduct” and said “it would be wise to send a Royal Navy ship”.
French maritime minister Annick Girardin accused Jersey, the largest Channel Island, of overriding the licensing of French ships under the terms of the UK’s post-Brexit trade agreement with Brussels.
Jersey, a self-governing British Crown Dependency off the coast of France, has said boats must submit further details before the licenses can be issued, calling for patience.
Johnson spoke with John Le Fondre, Jersey’s Chief Minister on Wednesday, as the couple “stressed the urgent need for a de-escalation of tensions,” a Downing Street statement said.
“The Prime Minister underlined his continued support for Jersey,” he added.
A Johnson government spokesman previously called threats to Jersey’s electricity supply “unacceptable and disproportionate”.
The growing row over fisheries is one of many disputes that have arisen between the UK and the European Union since London left the bloc’s internal market and customs union early this year.
Jersey Secretary of State Ian Gorst told BBC Radio on Wednesday: “It seems disproportionate to cut the electricity as we need to provide additional details so we can fine-tune permits.
“I think a solution can be found. I am optimistic that we can give extra time to provide this proof. ”
Paris and London have increasingly clashed over the fishing industry in recent weeks as French fishermen say they cannot operate in UK waters due to difficulties in obtaining permits.
On Thursday morning, about 100 French fishing vessels will sail to the port of Jersey to protest the issuance of the permits, the head of fisheries for the Normandy region, Dimitri Rogoff, told AFP.
However, Rogoff said they would not try to block the port and return to France in the afternoon.
In the latest move, Britain on Friday authorized 41 French ships equipped with Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) technology – which allows ships to be located – to fish in the waters around Jersey.
But this list was accompanied by new requirements that the French Ministry of Fisheries said had not been settled or discussed with Paris, effectively creating new zoning rules for the waters off Jersey.
UK Government Minister Nadhim Zahawi said the two sides must work “constructively” on “operational challenges that we must solve together”.
“This is a problem for the (European) Commission to work with our team,” he told Sky News.