Channel Islands united in defending fisheries

ANY moves by the UK government to give French fishermen greater access to Channel Island waters in an attempt to break the Brexit deadlock will meet strong resistance from the islands.


National media has reported that these changes could be considered as part of a Brexit deal, but these claims have been dismissed by Jersey’s external relations minister Senator Ian Gorst.

While echoing the Guernsey view that the island would not give up its territorial waters, Senator Gorst said the report, at least in relation to Jersey, seemed to be based on a misunderstanding.

‘The UK is not in a position to offer rights to Jersey territorial waters,’ he said.

‘Jersey will decide whether it is party to any deal that the UK might negotiate with the EU, either on their own behalf or on our behalf.’

Jersey has its own relationship with the EU via the Bay of Granville Treaty, and he thought that it was ongoing efforts to re-negotiate this that were probably the source of a misunderstanding.

Alderney’s General Services committee chairman Graham McKinley, who also has responsibility for fisheries, said his views echoed Guernsey’s Fishermen’s Association president Barry Paint, who said that any attempt to use the islands as a pawn in order to achieve Brexit would be strongly resisted.

‘I feel very strongly,’ he said. ‘We have a perfectly good agreement at the moment. We don’t need any change to the current fishing regulations.’

Alderney’s senior politician James Dent, chairman of the Policy and Finance committee, would be the person to discuss the matter with Guernsey, said Mr McKinley, and it was likely that the islands would work together.

‘Alderney is not in the best position to fight the UK government,’ he said.

Former sea fisheries officer and election candidate Advocate Mark Helyar said that while the island’s limits have been extended to 12 miles, matters relating to fisheries are not included in that order.

‘These orders also do not give us sovereign powers of territory, the rights of the Crown have simply been delegated to insular authorities, and could be, for example, withdrawn by subsequent act of parliament.’

Guernsey and Jersey have rather different situations, he said, with Jersey’s falling under the ‘Mer Commun’ (‘common sea’) arrangement.

Mr Helyar said that under this arrangement French vessels are able to fish almost unrestricted in the island’s waters, apart from having to comply with certain net sizes, fish sizes and other specific limits.

‘The UK altering its position wouldn’t seem to provide the French with any benefits that they don’t already have under the new regime [being discussed by Guernsey and France],’ he said.

But he said that the plan being put forward would rightly give rise to concerns about the nature of the islands’ future constitutional relationship with the UK.

Deputy Jonathan Le Tocq is the Policy & Resources Committee member who leads on external relations and he said that after the UK left the EU in January and withdrew from the London Fisheries Convention, the Bailiwick legislated quickly to help France meet certain EU obligations and to ensure that access was maintained during the transition period, in line with the spirit of the withdrawal agreement. This ends on 31 December.

‘As part of Guernsey’s ongoing regular engagement with France, with the regional and national governments and with representatives in London and Brussels, we have continued to engage on the topic of fishing, to ensure that the views and actions of the Bailiwick are understood by the French authorities, as was the case in January’, he said.

‘This engagement will continue as Guernsey continues to develop and strengthen this relationship with our closest neighbour, and as we continue to develop the island’s international identity.’

n The UK minister with responsibility for the Crown Dependencies has stepped down from government.

Lord Keen was also the UK government’s law officer for Scotland, and he has reportedly resigned over the UK government’s handling of Brexit.

Earlier this week it was admitted that the government’s plans could break international law, and after reportedly finding it difficult to come to terms with these plans, Lord Keen resigned.

The Ministry of Justice was not prepared to make a formal comment about a replacement yesterday, other than to say an announcement would be made as soon as there was more information.

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