Reports this week said that British negotiators were considering ‘ceding control over fishing waters’ around the Channel Islands as part of their deal-brokering as London prepares to sever its ties with Brussels at the end of the year.
The report claimed that unnamed ‘government sources’ had advised that diplomats were floating the idea of allowing more French vessels to enter waters around the islands to ‘resolve a key dispute’ in negotiations.
But External Relations Minister Ian Gorst said he thought there had been a misunderstanding about how the Brexit negotiating process worked with relation to Jersey.
‘If we start with the basics, 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.
‘If you think about it logically, it’s not possible for the UK to offer up our waters to the EU, but of course the [trade in] goods and fishing issues are fairly central to the negotiations for the UK, to us and the other Crown Dependencies [Guernsey and the Isle of Man].
‘The process is that we discuss with the UK what we would like, we agree texts that they then submit to the EU and then they have conversations about that text and revert to us.’
The minister also pointed out that, unlike the UK, Jersey had a direct agreement in place with France, called the Bay of Granville Treaty. He said that continuing efforts to renegotiate that treaty were probably the source of the misunderstanding.
‘We’ve said publicly before that we’d like to use that agreement as a future basis for a relationship with Europe [with regard to fishing rights] and that is a different position from the UK. They don’t have that agreement,’ he said.
‘So what I suspect is that somebody, somewhere has misunderstood what the offer is and what the negotiating position on behalf of Jersey is that is being submitted to Europe. It’s about the UK putting forward our proposals which are to use a renegotiated Bay of Granville agreement as a basis for a future relationship.
‘I can see how it’s gone wrong but, in getting it wrong, they’ve totally misunderstood the situation. It’s just not true.’
By seeking a revised Bay of Granville agreement, Jersey is aiming to secure continued access to French ports for Jersey fishermen to land catches, while in exchange French vessels will have access to the Island’s waters, as is currently the case.
In a statement, Environment Minister John Young said that Jersey ‘will not be ceding control of its territorial waters’.
‘We continue to discuss the future fishing relationship concerning access to our territorial waters with all relevant partners, and in the context of Brexit,’ he said.
‘Ministers are very aware of the importance of fisheries in Jersey and in our neighbouring communities in France and wish to maintain an agreement which upholds and improves the responsible management of our shared marine resources.
‘We continue to ensure that Jersey’s views are fully represented and understood in all negotiations and discussions regarding our territorial waters.’