Hours after Brexit on Saturday, the French government announced that officials in Guernsey had “temporally suspended” access to the island’s waters by French vessels. The decision sparked uproar, with French captains threatening to set alight British boats landing their fish on the Continent. But the lockout looks set to continue despite a political agreement for renewed access between London and Paris.
France’s EU affairs minister Amelie de Montchalin last night said they should be able to access the waters around Guernsey by the end of the week as bureaucrats work to implement the deal.
She said: “We have a diplomatic agreement. We received a formal letter from Her Majesty.
“We have a political agreement… now we are in implementation.”
Guernsey, like the other Channel Islands, is a self-governing dependency of the British crown, and was never part of the European Union like the UK.
The London Fisheries Convention, which gave French vessels access, ended on January 31, with the French government branding the new rules “disrespectful”.
Under the newly-minted arrangements, the EU Commission has “pre-validated a list of boats” that can continue fishing in Guernsey,” Ms Montchalin said.
“We have an agreement with Guernsey that they do not collect any money, that it will be without costs.
"I alerted the commissioners that this subject is not symbolic, that it is key for confidence in future negotiations."
For the fishers themselves, it was important "that we do not create a precedent in restricting a small area in the middle of the English Channel for diplomatic reasons," she added.
Jordan Bardella, a member of the European Parliament for the National Rally, slammed the French government after the temporary ban was announced.
“The French government has not at all anticipated this state of affairs,” he said.
In a message to his country’s trawlermen, he said: “I will tell them that the French government has abandoned them.
“It’s been months, even years, that we know that Brexit poses a risk to French fishing.”
The 24-year-old politician added Paris should have acted faster to replace the number of non-EU fisheries deals with London before Brexit.
He also warned that France should not close the door on Britain as a result of Brexit, insisting the country needs continued business from UK tourists and firms to stay afloat.
“We must continue to have economic agreements with Great Britain,” he said.
“Britain does not disappear from the map, it does not sink into the Channel.
“We must continue to have economic agreements with Great Britain, for the simple reason that we are also dependent on the British economy since 47 percent of British exports go to the EU.”
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For French fishermen, around 30 percent of their turnover is reliant on access to British waters.
They will face a “real shortfall” if they are blocked from the UK’s territorial waters after the Brexit transition period ends at the end of the year, according to the Port of Calais’ boss.
Jean-Marc Puissesseau said his biggest fear for the post-Brexit relationship would see local fisherman banned from the UK’s waters.
He said: “If there is no agreement, it could lead to a fish mess with a real shortfall for the Boulogne fishermen.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week has dismissed EU demands for concessions over fishing.
Under his plan, the UK will become an independent coastal state from the end of the year.
The UK, like Norway and Iceland, will have annual negotiations with the EU on access to waters.
Brussels is calling for “existing reciprocal access” for fishing vessels as a pre-condition for any future trade deal with Britain.