May 14, 2021 - 10:30am

A ceasefire has been declared in the great Jersey-France whelk war of 2021.

Who has won and who has lost? Nobody so far — but the Jersey government was the first to blink.

The restrictions unilaterally imposed by the Jersey government on Norman and Breton boats have been withdrawn until 1 July. Talks with France and the EU will resume.

The dispute was front-page news in all UK newspapers and the top of radio and TV bulletins last Thursday and Friday. Very little has been reported on the truce.

The last we heard from the UK tabloids was that the Royal Navy (two small patrol boats) had put to flight an invasion fleet of 100 French fishing boats which protested in St Helier harbour last Thursday. The French said, au contraire, that they left when they intended to leave — to go fishing for whelks, scallops and lobsters.

The dispute, over how many French boats can fish within 6 to 12 miles of the Jersey coast post-Brexit, has yet to be resolved. The French government and the European Commission accuse Jersey of breaking the law by acting against the letter and spirit of the post-Brexit fishing deal struck on 24 December. This agreement allowed inshore access for mostly French boats which can prove they have fished in southern English and Channel Islands waters in recent years. 

The Jersey government imposed limits which appeared to bear no relation to fishing records — restricting some French boats to a few hours a year. Jersey has now fallen in line with the less confrontational approach of the Guernsey government, which rolled over present rights to July while talks continued.

In return, Jersey boats will be allowed once again to sell their catches in French ports. It was this ban (forcing most Jersey boats to tie up) which brought most pressure on the government in St Helier — not the French invasion fleet.

An ill-considered threat by Paris to switch off the under-water cables from Normandy which supply 90% of Jersey’s electricity may have had some effect. It is doubtful, however, that France would have carried out the threat, which would also have blacked-out France-friendly Guernsey.

French fishermen’s leaders say the Jersey government has fallen under the spell of a group of nationalist-minded politicians who have been seeking for years to torpedo cooperation between France and the island (a British crown possession but not part of the UK).

Jersey politicians say that French fishermen failed properly to fill in forms proving that they had fished off the island recently.

Either way it was scarcely the re-run of the battle of Trafalgar which last week’s headlines suggested.

Could the UK government’s belligerent attitude, sending two patrol vessels to the scene, have had anything to do with the local elections and Hartlepool by-election last Thursday?

Surely not.

John Lichfield was Paris correspondent of The Independent for 20 years. Half-English and half-Belgian, he was born in Stoke-on-Trent and lives in Normandy.