Sir Philip Bailhache has stepped into the debate about the Fisheries Bill 2019–21, which was passed by British MPs last week and is set to become law later this year.
And the former Senator said that, if necessary, Jersey should seek a commitment from the UK to enter direct negotiations with France and that if the UK would not make such a commitment, the Government of Jersey should be giving ‘serious thought to taking responsibility for the conduct of its own foreign affairs’.
The bill includes a clause that would allow it to be applied in the Channel Islands and has won support from the Jersey Fishermen’s Association.
The association has grown increasingly frustrated with Jersey ministers, claiming they are failing to renegotiate the Granville Bay Agreement, which regulates fishing in local waters.
Association president Don Thompson, who says the Jersey government’s lack of action has left French fishermen with ‘virtually unlimited’ access to local waters, said his members supported the UK move to stand up to the French as the two countries move towards post-Brexit separation by the end of December.
However, in a column published in today’s JEP, Sir Philip says that the JFA’s support for the Fisheries Bill being extended to the Channel Islands was understandable, but also misguided.
Vociferous support for English fishermen by the UK government was part of the UK’s strategy for leaving the EU, Sir Philip said, but had no bearing on the Granville Bay Agreement.
‘The UK could not, even if it wanted to do so, unilaterally repudiate the Granville Bay Agreement – international law would not allow it,’ he said. ‘The agreement could, and should, be revised by negotiation, but that is a different matter.’
Sir Philip said it would not be in the interests of the UK to start another battle with France, and that ministers and officials in London were not concerned about the best interests of Jersey fishermen.
Adding the ‘permissive extent’ clause that would enable UK legislation to be extended to the Channel Islands was unconstitutional and could mean more EU fishermen operating in Jersey waters in the future, he warned.
‘That would be a very serious breach of our constitutional relationship with the UK, but we have just seen that the UK is willing to act unconstitutionally when it judges that it is in its interests to do so,’ he said.
The JFA should rethink its stance, Sir Philip concluded, and support the Island’s government in its efforts to renegotiate the agreement with France.