In what appears to be the first international skirmish since Brexit, French politicians have condemned a temporary ban on foreign fishing boats in waters off Guernsey triggered by Britain’s departure from the European Union.
Access to waters off the Channel Island for French trawlers was granted by a 1964 treaty that expired automatically alongside Brexit on Friday night.
Guernsey had agreed to led French boats continue fishing there during the 11-month transition period for Brexit trade and customs negotiations.
But authorities on the island have decided to implement a case-by-case permit scheme that French authorities say is a de facto ban on their boats.
‘Acid test of Brexit’
Although relatively inconsequential in economic terms, fishing is an emotive industry viewed as symbolic of national sovereignty and self-sufficiency.
“Perhaps in many ways, fisheries is the acid test of Brexit,” Brexiteer Nigel Farage said last week.
The issue is a particularly acute issue in the Channel Islands, which lie a few miles off the coast of Normandy.
As ‘crown dependencies’ they have a historic allegiance to the British monarchy and their citizens are British but are not part of the United Kingdom, nor the EU.
The Bailiwick of Guernsey administers fishing in waters off Guernsey, Alderney and Sark.
British waters account for as much as 30% of the turnover of French fishermen.
Guernsey fishing plan ‘too vague’
Sonia Krimi, National Assembly member for the Manche region and member of the French parliament’s foreign affairs committee, spoke out to “strongly condemn this hasty and disrespectful decision” by Guernsey.
She said the permit scheme was “too vague” and the result of a “political decision.”
The French agriculture ministry said on Saturday it was in touch with counterparts in Guernsey and Britain to make the delivery time for permits “as short as possible.”
Marc Lefèvre, president of the Manche department, called for “the fastest possible issuance of licenses for Normandy boats” in order to allow Guernsey boats to land fish in Normandy ports.