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Jersey fishermen row revealed Britain’s reliance on Europe for power

The fishing row which saw France threaten to cut off Jersey’s power has exposed the ‘very dangerous’ threat of being too reliant on a foreign supplier for electricity, an expert said yesterday.

Britain risks becoming an ‘import junkie’ by depending too heavily on the Continent for its electricity needs, it was claimed.

Tony Lodge, a research fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies think-tank, said the UK is setting itself up for ‘almighty trouble’ by the end of the decade.

He warned that Britain is offshoring its energy security and emissions to Europe, leaving it vulnerable if the Continent’s surplus of power is reduced.

The fishing row which saw France threaten to cut off Jersey’s power has exposed the ‘very dangerous’ threat of being too reliant on a foreign supplier for electricity, Tony Lodge, a research fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies has claimed

On Tuesday French maritime minister Annick Girardin said Paris would cut off electricity to Jersey – which gets 95 per cent of its power supply from France – if the dispute was not resolved.

Mr Lodge yesterday said this had ‘inadvertently exposed’ the ‘very dangerous’ threat of being too reliant on a foreign supplier.

He said: ‘We have slowly offshored our ability to generate all of the electricity we need… We followed European Union diktat when we were in the EU to close a lot of coal and oil power stations early, and we haven’t replaced them at home.

‘What we have done is set up interconnectors – undersea cables import power when we need it from the EU.’ He warned: ‘We are going to become import junkies.’

On Tuesday French maritime minister Annick Girardin said Paris would cut off electricity to Jersey ¿ which gets 95 per cent of its power supply from France ¿ if the dispute was not resolved. Pictured: President Macron with a French military leader

On Tuesday French maritime minister Annick Girardin said Paris would cut off electricity to Jersey – which gets 95 per cent of its power supply from France – if the dispute was not resolved. Pictured: President Macron with a French military leader

Mr Lodge said when there are cold snaps or power station closures in Europe, electricity generation on the Continent could become tight.

‘The availability of surplus electricity in Europe is a key factor in spare flows and surplus flows that make it to the UK,’ he explained.

He urged the Government to build more power stations in Britain so it can generate electricity on demand.

He said: ‘Renewables are fine… because of course electricity demand doesn’t always match when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining. So we need to balance that much better.’ Mr Lodge said Britain has several plans under way to increase reliance on power from Europe.

Locals watch as French fishing boats leave Jersey waters following their protest in front of the port of Saint Helier, with a Royal Navy ship in the background

Locals watch as French fishing boats leave Jersey waters following their protest in front of the port of Saint Helier, with a Royal Navy ship in the background 

He added there were ‘posturing’ reports that the Government could review its energy links with France in light of the Jersey row.

But a Whitehall source sought to downplay the claims that the UK may in future take a more cautious view of France as an energy partner.

Britain imports around 8 per cent of its power from foreign nations and Northern Ireland via underwater cables – due to rise to 25 per cent.

Last night a Government spokesman said: ‘The UK has a robust domestic energy supply from diverse sources, which we are confident will ensure security of supply in all scenarios.’

  • Supplies of Jersey Royals would be hit by any blockade of St Helier. Shipments to UK supermarkets of the new potatoes and other fresh produce depend on the daily ferry to Portsmouth. Likewise, supermarkets on Jersey would suffer shortages of bread, fruit, fresh meat and vegetables, which arrive twice a day by ship. Chief executive of the Jersey Co-op stores, Mark Cox, said its shelves would be ‘bare within two days’ if the port was blocked. 

Q&A

Why are the fishermen angry?

French fishermen need a licence to fish in Jersey’s waters under the Brexit deal. Until last week French boats were allowed to work under the previous rules. Now fishermen are complaining that boats which had operated in the waters for years are having their access restricted.

What changed?

The fishermen had to prove they worked in Jersey’s waters previously to keep doing so, but argued they were facing more curbs. Jersey’s government said of the 41 French boats that applied for licences last Friday, 17 did not provide the evidence.

How does this relate to Brexit?

When the UK left the EU it also left the Common Fisheries Policy and ended the Bay of Granville fishing agreement, which shared out fishing rights in Jersey’s waters. But Brussels believes that Jersey is ignoring the terms of the trade deal and that French trawlers are facing ‘additional conditions’ to operating, in breach of the agreement.

Why did the row escalate?

This week French maritime minister Annick Girardin suggested that Paris could cut off electricity to Jersey, which gets 95 per cent of its power supply from France.

On Wednesday up to 100 French fisherman were threatening to blockade Jersey’s St Helier harbour. In the event they only staged a protest outside the port yesterday.

How has Britain responded?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson sent two Navy gunships to ‘monitor’ the situation in Jersey on Wednesday night and called for an urgent de-escalation in tensions.

How could it be resolved?

The Government believes the best way to end the row is through the dispute resolution mechanism in the Brexit deal. So far, the EU has not triggered this. 

ADMIRAL LORD WEST OF SPITHEAD: This was childish, dangerous and (just like every other French sea skirmish) doomed to fail 

French aggression over disputed fishing waters around the Channel Islands is childish, irrational, petulant and dangerous.

Their militant behaviour is like something from the 19th century, not the 21st. We ought to be long clear of all that old history, but by being so obstreperous the French and their navy are harking back to the Napoleonic era.

It’s tempting to be trite and point out that clashes between British and French fleets never do end in their favour. The Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 remains one of the most emphatic victories in our island history, one that helped shape the world today.

But this is not a moment for jingoism. The French are making extreme threats and naval encounters can escalate with alarming speed. We are in the midst of a serious situation, although it may seem like an Ealing comedy.

Yesterday’s protest saw more than 60 small Normandy vessels gathering around the bay – with some actually entering the harbour of St Helier – taking up position for a blockade that dispersed after several hours.

France's militant behaviour is like something from the 19th century, not the 21st. We ought to be long clear of all that old history, but by being so obstreperous the French and their navy are harking back to the Napoleonic era, writes Admiral Lord West of Spithead

France’s militant behaviour is like something from the 19th century, not the 21st. We ought to be long clear of all that old history, but by being so obstreperous the French and their navy are harking back to the Napoleonic era, writes Admiral Lord West of Spithead

All this, in a dispute over delays to paperwork for fishing licences. I am astonished by the hysterical French over-reaction.

Make no mistake, these are British territorial waters. The citizens of the Channel Islands are British.

Protecting them is more than our right – it is our duty, and the Prime Minister was right to send in a couple of Fishery Protection ships, HMS Tamar and HMS Severn.

The response of the government in Paris, to despatch two gendarmerie patrol boats, PCG Athos and PCG Themis, was one more arrogant provocation.

In simple terms, one country cannot just send its armed ships into the territorial seas of another nation and leave them there. It is a gross breach of the UN Convention of the laws at sea.

In the aftermath of Brexit, Jersey is applying the rules of the treaties. The French have taken exception to this. What should follow is legal discussion and debate, with a resolution agreed by both sides.

That’s the way friends ought to behave in this day and age – and our navies should be friends. We have a history of co-operation as allies since the Entente Cordiale more than a century ago. By sharing our knowledge and training programmes, both countries benefit and Europe is safer.

What is so alarming is how eager French president Emmanuel Macron and his ministers have been to stir up trouble.

The most incendiary threat so far has been their less-than-veiled warning that Jersey’s electricity supply lies under French control. Almost all the island’s power is transmitted via underwater cables from the Norman mainland.

Shutting off electricity to a foreign country is nothing short of international gangsterism. The very idea of it shames a great democratic nation such as France.

It would be a hostile act that would put lives in danger. Without electricity, Jersey’s hospitals and many other vital services would be impaired.

So far, the Prime Minister has acted with the right balance of muscle and restraint. Tamar and Severn were sent in to ‘monitor’, not to fight.

Of course they are equipped with heavy cannons and machine guns, but there would be no question of opening fire, except in self-defence if they came under fire themselves.

In the event, the flotilla of French fishing boats turned tail and headed back to their home ports yesterday afternoon.

The French warships also withdrew and, in response, No 10 announced that the Tamar and the Severn would leave the area ‘given that the situation is resolved for now’.

But if the blockade had begun in earnest and showed no sign of lifting, perhaps over several days, then our sailors could have worked with local police to board the French boats.

Fishermen would have been asked to leave and their boats impounded. If they refused, they could have been arrested. After appropriate legal action, their equipment would have been liable to confiscation.

In this context the protesters should be seen as ‘naughty fishermen’ and – if the occasion should arise –punished accordingly.

It is imperative that the crisis does not escalate. Half a century ago, British and Icelandic fishing fleets clashed in the so-called Cod Wars. There were numerous aggressive incidents, with trawlers being attacked and rammed.

But the history of these disputes goes back far beyond that. The Tamar and Severn belong to the former Fishery Protection Squadron, now renamed the Overseas Patrol Squadron, which is the oldest division in the Royal Navy. It’s been protecting our fishing fleet since Elizabethan times.

As an enthusiastic amateur historian, Boris Johnson will know that Lord Nelson was once a captain in the Fishery Protection Squadron. He will also recall from his history lessons that during the French Revolution, the Royal Navy blockaded the Brittany port of Brest to protect our trading routes.

That was more than 200 years ago. The apparent French eagerness to return to those days is plain madness.

This graphic shows how the two Royal Navy vessels compare to the French patrol boat that has raced to confront them today

This graphic shows how the two Royal Navy vessels compare to the French patrol boat that has raced to confront them today

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