The Fisheries Bill, introduced for the post-Brexit environment, was approved this week in the House of Commons and included an amendment called a permissive extent clause, which was opposed by the Crown Dependencies – Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.
Speaking on behalf of the government, Conservative MP Victoria Prentis said that the clause would allow the UK to legislate for the Crown Dependencies to bring them in line with ‘international obligations’ on fishing, but only as a ‘last resort’.
Sir Bob Neill, a former justice minister with responsibility for the Dependencies, called the amendment ‘provocative’.
The Government of Jersey said that the clause was ‘unnecessary’ and the UK would still not be able to pass laws on behalf of the Island without the consent of the States Assembly.
A spokeswoman for the government said that Jersey could and would manage its fisheries using its domestic laws and parliament.
‘The Government of Jersey was advised by the UK government that a permissive extent clause would be included in the UK Fisheries Bill,’ she said.
‘Jersey ministers have regularly made clear to UK ministers that Jersey domestic legislation provides comprehensively for the management of Jersey’s fishing opportunities and is sufficient to give effect to international obligations.
‘There is no reason to extend parts of UK legislation and the inclusion of the PEC is unnecessary.’
She added: ‘The extension of any part of the UK Fisheries Bill would require that an Order in Council be made. Under the States of Jersey Law, an Order in Council can only have effect in Jersey if it is put forward by the Chief Minister and approved by the States Assembly.
‘Accordingly, Jersey retains full control of its fisheries legislation, and control of our territorial waters is not impacted by the inclusion of this PEC in the Fisheries Bill.’
Last month External Relations Minister Ian Gorst hit back at suggestions that the UK had control over the Island’s territorial waters, after suggestions in the national media that the UK was prepared to cede fishing rights around Jersey as part of its Brexit negotiations.
During the debate on the fisheries bill, Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael asked why the permissive extent clause amendment had been introduced.
In response, Mrs Prentis said: ‘[The amendment] includes a permissive extent clause that will allow the UK Government to legislate for the Crown Dependencies to ensure compliance with our international obligations.
‘That follows a great deal of discussion with the Crown Dependencies and I recognise that they take their international obligations seriously.
‘I reassure members and, indeed, the Crown Dependencies, that activation of the permissive extent clause would only ever be used as a last resort and I am looking forward to continuing discussions with the Crown Dependencies on that in the next few days and weeks.’
Sir Bob said that the islands opposed the clause being included in the bill and that this had happened against their consent, which was ‘unprecedented’.
‘As things stand, the governments and legislatures of both Jersey and Guernsey object,’ he said.
‘It is not just that they do not think a permissive extent clause is necessary. They object to its inclusion in the bill. It is truly unprecedented for the government to insist upon a permissive extent clause without the agreement of the relevant Crown Dependencies.
‘Why, even in an emergency, go down this rather provocative step? Why not wait until such time as an emergency arises and let them legislate, as they have indicated they would?’
THE issue of the UK passing legislation on behalf of the Island caused a constitutional crisis in 2018.
A group of MPs, led by Andrew Mitchell and Dame Margaret Hodge, attempted to pass laws at Westminster to introduce ‘public registers of beneficial ownership of companies’ in the Crown Dependencies aimed at increasing corporate transparency.
The proposals were lodged and withdrawn twice following vehement opposition from the islands. Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man all eventually agreed to introduce the requested registers by 2023, however, in line with those produced by EU states.