Legal action by France would ‘show the world that we have done the right thing’

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LEGAL action by France in the dispute over fishing licensing ‘would be welcome’, according to the Home Affairs Minister, who said it would show the world how ‘unreasonable’ the country had been.

Deputy Gregory Guida made the comments following renewed threats by French Europe Minister Clément Beaune that the nation could still initiate proceedings against Jersey and the UK if more licences were not issued.

The States Member spoke out following a virtual meeting he attended yesterday along with Chief Minister John Le Fondré, External Relations Minister Ian Gorst and French Minister of the Sea Annick Girardin.

During the video call, Ms Girardin reportedly pleaded with Jersey to grant more of her country’s fishermen licences, but Deputy Guida said that both he and his counterparts were standing firm.

A total of 125 boats which can prove their history of fishing in Jersey waters – a process that has been deployed in line with the Brexit agreement – have been issued with a permanent licence. Meanwhile, 38 vessels which have provided some evidence, but not the required amount, have been granted a licence which will expire at the end of the month.

Deputy Guida said: ‘Annick Girardin was saying “Oh yes, yes but that is the text of the law. What about human problems? What about people who now would like to fish who cannot” even if they did not fish before.

‘She is definitely going to try everything she can for every last licence, but I think she is starting to realise there are no grounds for them and we were very firm.’

He added: ‘I think the most interesting thing that happened yesterday was that [UK fisheries Minister] Victoria Prentis completely backed us, having seen that Jersey was [going] above and beyond the call of duty, that we really, really tried to help the French who deserved to get a licence.’

Yesterday, Mr Beaune renewed threats first issued last year that his country could launch legal action if more permits were not granted. But Deputy Guida said he did not think it would be in France’s interests to do so.

He added: ‘I cannot talk for the EU but I think it would not be very clever of them. First of all they would show that having a contract with the rest of the world does not mean much and that they can do whatever they want anyway and, second, if the committee is in anyway balanced, they cannot find fault.

‘We have followed the rules to the absolute letter; it is all provable and documented, so we would welcome it [legal action] – apart from the cost and the time – because it would be a way to show to the world that we have done the right thing and that France is being unreasonable.’

In April, French citizens are due to head to the polling stations to elect their new President. Deputy Guida, who is originally from Paris, said that the drive by France to obtain more licences was ‘100% to do with the election’.

He added: ‘It is so small. It is absolutely tiny. Fishing is very important for us but for France it is a very few boats we are talking about – and tiny boats. The economic value is negligible, so it is completely political.

‘They have a nice little sideshow – it puts people’s minds away from unemployment, the yellow jackets, the deficit and all the real problems, the sorting out of Covid.

‘It will come to a head in the next week because the temporary licences expire at the end of January and we have quite a few boats that have them who will not be allowed to fish anymore. That is where the French are getting antsy.’

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