Politics latest news: France dispatches two navy ships as minister claims he will not be 'intimidated' by UK show of force

·21-min read

Watch: French Boats Enter St Helier Harbor Amid Fishing Dispute

France has dispatched two military vessels to Jersey's capital of St Helier, as the row over post-Brexit fishing rights escalates.

The port has been under blockade since dawn this morning, with eyewitnesses estimating around 60 French fishing vessels have been taking part in a protest against new rules that limit their access to British waters around Jersey. 

The Royal Navy's HMS Tamar and HMS Severn, both of which are equipped with machine guns, are stationed just off the coast.  

In response two patrol vessels have been sent to waters close to the Channel island of Jersey, as France's European affairs minister Clement Beaune told AFP his government would "not be intimidated" by the UK's show of force. 

Ian Gorst, Jersey's External Affairs Minister, said the ships would have to remain within French waters unless it sought permission from UK authorities. 

But he noted that France was "only 14 miles away" from the island, adding: "They can remain in French waters and still be close to us."

​​Follow the latest updates below.

09:54 AM

Jersey blockade can be resolved if people 'keep calm and carry on', says Lord Ricketts

The French blockade of St Helier is "absolutely typical" of the country's approach to protests, and is simply a "cry for attention", a former ambassador to the country has said. 

Lord Ricketts, who served from 2012 to 2016, told the BBC: "They want to grab the attention of the British Government and Jersey authorities" so they "say fierce things, and make big gestures - but in the end, it's a cry for attention".

The tensions had been caused by a "failure of communication", he noted, with the fishermen "rightly or wrongly" concerned that "their livelihoods are being threatened". 

But the cross-bench peer added that the plan for Jersey authorities to speak to those involved was "a very good thing" , adding: "It will get resolved if everyone keeps calm and carries on negotiating." 

09:49 AM

France 'not ready for war', claims MEP

This morning a French MEP tried to downplay her country's threats of cutting electricity to Jersey, telling Radio 4's Today programme: "These are only words - we are not ready for war."

But Stephanie Yon-Courtin, who sits on the European Parliament's fishing committee, said she backed the threats to cut electricity to the island. 

She added: "All retaliatory measures will be explored... as a last resort. If we don't have any other means to be understood, we will have to consider that."

09:35 AM

Watch: Boris Johnson goes to the polls

Boris Johnson has cast his vote at Methodist Central Hall in London.

The Prime Minister arrived at the polling station at just before 8am, arm-in-arm with fiancé Carrie Symonds.

Watch: Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds cast election votes

09:29 AM

Dispatch from French blockade: French fishermen say 'our hands are tied'

Jersey’s External Relations Minister Ian Gorst is due to board a boat to go out to speak to the French fishermen this morning - our correspondent Henry Samuel is on the scene. 

One French fisherman blockading Jersey tells him: “The problem is out hands our tied. [The Jersey government] has to pass everything via London and we have to go through Brussels then Paris and Normandy and Brittany. No wonder it’s a mess.”

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09:23 AM

France sends second naval ship as Jersey row builds

France has dispatched a second naval ship, as the row over post-Brexit fishing rights builds.

Agency AFP quotes French minister Clement Beaune saying he "won't be intimidated" by Boris Johnson's decision to deploy two Royal Navy gunboats overnight.

Speaking earlier, Jersey's External Affairs Minister stressed that these ships would have to seek permission in order to enter Jersey's territorial waters, but that had not been sought. 

But he noted that France was "only 14 miles away" from the island, adding: "They can remain in French waters and still be close to us."

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09:14 AM

Get me to the church on time: Voters cast ballot in car after warden oversleeps

A voter has cast his ballot in a car boot after the church warden opening his polling station "overslept apparently".

Toby Porter said he cast his vote in Oxford at 7.25am, and the normal polling station was "up and running" by 7.30am. Around a dozen people voted in the car before the centre at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies was opened.

"We found it funny. Everyone was enjoying the novelty," he told the PA news agency.

Laura Lock, deputy chief executive of the Association of Electoral Administrators, said some polling stations in cars are seen at each election.

"All polling station staff are trained on how to set up temporary polling stations for cases just like this," she said.

"Unfortunately we do find key holders oversleeping, so every election we see a handful of polling stations in cars until access to the building can be sorted."

09:10 AM

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar casts his vote

Anas Sarwar with his wife and son arrive at Pollokshields Burgh Hall in Glasgow - PA
Anas Sarwar with his wife and son arrive at Pollokshields Burgh Hall in Glasgow - PA

North of the border, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has voted at his local polling station at Pollokshields Burgh Hall in Glasgow on Thursday morning.

Mr Sarwar is standing against First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in the Glasgow Southside constituency, which includes Pollokshields. He only took over the reins of the party in February. 

Ms Sturgeon has already voted by post but joined SNP candidate Rosa Salih at Annette Street Primary School polling station in Govanhill, Glasgow, to lend her support and meet a Syrian family as they cast their ballots.

Nicola Sturgeon leaves her house at the start of polling day in Glasgow - Shutterstock
Nicola Sturgeon leaves her house at the start of polling day in Glasgow - Shutterstock

09:02 AM

Sir Keir Starmer casts his vote

Sir Keir Starmer and his wife Victoria leave after casting their vote - PA
Sir Keir Starmer and his wife Victoria leave after casting their vote - PA

Returning to the elections, Sir Keir Starmer has voted at a polling station inside a community support centre in north London.

The Labour leader arrived on foot at the Greenwood Centre in Kentish Town at 9.30am, accompanied by his wife Victoria.

He left the building around four minutes later and walked away hand-in-hand with his wife while followed by photographers.

Asked by a reporter how he was feeling, Sir Keir said: "Good".

09:00 AM

Royal Navy gunboats ensuring French fishermen stage 'demonstration, not blockade'

Boris Johnson's decision to deploy two Royal Navy gunboats has ensured that the "demonstration was a demonstration" and remained peaceful, Jersey's External Affairs Minister has said. 

Ian Gorst told Sky News he was "very grateful that the Prime Minister last night said he would give us his support". 

Having HMS Tamar and HMS Severn, both of which are equipped with machine guns, stationed just off the coast of St Helier was "a precautionary measure to ensure that the demonstration was demonstration and not a blockade", he added.

"We welcome peaceful demonstration, we understand that tensions are running high, but so far that precautionary measure has worked."

08:57 AM

French warship must remain outside our waters, says Jersey minister

French fishing boats protest in front of the port of Saint Helier - AFP
French fishing boats protest in front of the port of Saint Helier - AFP

The French military vessel Athos will have to remain outside UK and Jersey waters, a minister has said, after maritime police confirmed the ship had been dispatched as the row over fishing rights escaltes. 

Ian Gorst, Jersey's External Affairs Minister, told Sky News: "The latest intelligence is that it is not being dispatched to our waters. It would need to seek permission to do so, and I have not being informed that they have sought permission from us or the MoD."

But he noted that France was "only 14 miles away" from the island, adding: "They can remain in french waters and still be close to us."

08:51 AM

Jersey minister hints at quid pro quo on fishing rights

The Brexit trade deal is "clear" that evidence must be provided of "historic fishing rights", Jersey's External Affairs Minister has said. 

Fishing licences are at the heart of the row, which has escalated in recent days. 

Ian Gorst told Sky News that authorities want to enable those who have a right to continue fishing in waters would be welcomed "but evidence has to be provided". 

"It has become apparent since we issued the first licences on Friday that not all that evidence has been presented, therefore we are talking and helping fishermen to provide that evidence," he added. 

But Mr Gorst also suggested there would be a quid pro quo attached, noting that British fishermen have "have post-January 1 found it difficult and bureaucratic to land their fish into France". 

He called on the EU to help reach an agreement, thus "alleviating some of those issues and concerns." 

08:43 AM

Jersey's minister blasts France's 'disproportionate threats' as he calls for 'talking and diplomacy' 

Jersey's External Affairs Minister has blasted the "disproportionate threats" made by France towards the island, as he called for "talking and diplomacy" to resolve the tensions.

Ian Gorst told Sky News that the blockade had been peaceful so far, and the main vessel that brings in supplies has arrived, although it was "slightly delayed leaving". 

Highlighting planned talks between ministers and the fishermen later this morning, Mr Gorst said: "The answer to the difficulties we currently face is without doubt talking and diplomacy.

"But equally, we have seen disproportionate threats emanating from Paris and the potential blockade of our harbour," he added. "Those threats we take seriously to protect Jersey's interests."

08:38 AM

Boris Johnson must respond 'firmly' to threats against Jersey, says minister

Jersey's External Affairs Minister has said it is "important" that the Government responds "firmly" to "threats".

Ian Gorst told BBC News: "We've heard disproportionate threats from Paris and now with a potential blockade, but the answer to the issues that are being faced are without doubt talking and diplomacy."

Asked if it was disproportionate to send Royal Navy vessels to patrol the waters around Jersey, he said: "A minister in Paris threatened over technical issues on fishing licences to cut off Jersey's electricity.

"We have to take such threats seriously and respond appropriately.

"And fishing vessels threatened to blockade the main harbour into the island.

"Again, we have to take that seriously and we're extremely grateful to the Prime Minister for his full support and, as he said last night, those assets in Jersey waters are as a precautionary measure to monitor what's happening in our waters and, as I've said, so far the protest has been peaceful, as we would expect."

08:35 AM

Jersey ministers to meet with French fishermen today

Jersey's External Affairs Minister has said he and the local environment minister will be meeting French fishermen on Thursday morning.

Ian Gorst told BBC News: "He and I will, as I say, later this morning be going out to listen to the French fishermen.

"It's really important that we are able to work with those fishermen to help them provide the necessary evidence so that, if required, their licences can be amended.

"As I've said, it's important that we respond to threats, but the answer to this solution is to continue to talk and diplomacy."

Mr Gorst said the demonstration had been peaceful, "which is what we would have expected".

08:07 AM

Jersey blockade: How did we get here?

Tensions between France and the UK over post-Brexit fishing rights have been building for some time, with fishermen having staged protests last month. 

On Friday, things kicked up a gear when the Jersey government granted 41 permits to French fishing vessels that are equipped with technology that allows them to be located. The French government claimed the list of approved ships came with further demands that "were not arranged or discussed, and which we were not notified about".

The row erupted on Tuesday when Annick Girardin, the French Minister of the Sea, said her country was prepared to cut Jersey's energy supply unless it relented over access to UK waters.

On Wednesday morning, government sources accused Paris of sinking lower than Jersey's Nazi occupiers during the Second World War. "At least when the Germans invaded they kept the lights on," a source said.  

Last night, following threats of a blockade, Boris Johnson sent two patrol vessels to St Helier to monitor the situation."

08:01 AM

Boris Johnson casts his vote

Boris Johnson waves as he leaves a polling station with his partner Carrie Symonds - AP
Boris Johnson waves as he leaves a polling station with his partner Carrie Symonds - AP

Moving away from the Jersey blockade, the other big story today is the various elections taking place in England, Scotland and Wales today. 

Boris Johnson has cast his vote at Methodist Central Hall in London.

The Prime Minister arrived at the polling station at just before 8am, arm-in-arm with fiancee Carrie Symonds.

He emerged two minutes later and waved at members of the press outside the building as he made his way back to his car.

07:57 AM

Have the French now sent their Navy?

France has sent a "small naval gendarmerie" to Jersey, according to a Dutch journalist. 

Here are the details - we will bring you more as we have it. 

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07:44 AM

French blockade of St Helier 'like an invasion', says Jersey fisherman

The French blockade at the port of St Helier this morning was "like an invasion", a Jersey fisherman has said. 

 Josh Dearing told the PA news agency: "There were probably about 60 boats. There were a few hand-held flares and smoke flares going off and apparently a few maybe bangers and stuff going off from the French."

He said the French fleet was mostly made up of "big French dredgers and trawlers" of about 12 metres or more.

He added: "It was quite a sight. It was impressive, I looked from the shore this morning and it was just like a sea of red lights and flares already going off at sea. It was like an invasion."

He said there had been rumblings about a planned protest a few days ago but he had not been sure if it was "serious or empty threats".

He added: "The French being the French, they don't mess around. They can blockade their own harbours - they wouldn't think twice about coming and doing it to us."

07:33 AM

Jersey blockade: More from our man on the scene

Henry Samuel, our France correspondent, is on one of the fishing vessels currently blockading St Helier. 

He estimates there have been at least 50 fishing boats blocking the main port of Jersey, in a dawn protest at what they say are totally unfair changes to their fishing rights. 

Already a ferry has been prevented from leaving the port. Jersey maritime police are circling to monitor the situation and in the distance is what appears to be a UK Offshore Patrol Vessels.

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07:30 AM

Royal Navy unlikely to fire at French blockade - but they may board vessels

A former head of the Royal Navy has said it is unlikely that the two gunboats monitoring the blockade of St Helier will have to resort to a literal "shot across the bows" to break the situation up. 

Instead marines may board vessels, arrest those involved and impound the boats, Baron West of Spithead told Times Radio. 

"That is normally the thing that makes fishermen be very careful," he noted. "It is extremely expensive and a catastrophic thing. But let's hope we don't get to that." 

07:27 AM

French blockade at Jersey is '19th century behaviour', says former head of Royal Navy

Blockading a British port is a "19th century way of behaving, rather than a 21st century way", a former First Sea Lord has said. 

Baron West of Spithead, who was head of the Royal Navy from 2002 to 2006, told Times Radio it was "quite extraordinary" for French fishermen to be blocking St Helier, Jersey's capital, alongside the threats made by the French government to cut off electricity to the island. 

Stressing that those on the two naval ships would be attempting to "diffuse" the situation, he added: "You can’t allow vessels of another country to blockade one of our ports - in the final analysis that can’t be allowed.

"If they did something to block it they would have to do something to unblock it," he added. "It is an extraordinary situation."

07:21 AM

Commission backs France over fishing row 

Brussels has backed France in its row over fishing licences in Jersey, writes Europe Editor James Crisp.

The new conditions and restrictions introduced on licences by Jersey - a major factor in this morning's stand-off - as a breach of the UK-EU trade and cooperation agreement (TCA).  

The conditions, which Paris brands unacceptable and led to the threat to cut off electricity, govern where and when boats can go in jersey's waters and for how long and what machinery they can use.

A spokeswoman said, "Any addition of new specific conditions to these fishing authorisations that limit EU fishing activities in UK waters must comply with the objectives and principles set out in the TCA, which are based on clear scientific rationale. Any such conditions must also be non-discriminatory between UK and EU vessels."

"The Commission has clearly indicated to the UK that the provisions of the EU-UKTCA have not been respected. Until the UK authorities provide further justifications on the new conditions, these new conditions should not apply. The Commission remains in close contact with France and the UK on the matter."

07:14 AM

View from St Helier: Our man in Jersey joins 'the French armada'

Around 50 French fishing boats are currently blocking the main port of Jersey in a dawn protest at what they say are totally unfair changes to their fishing rights, writes France correspondent Henry Samuel.

Red flares have been lit. The French have blocked a ferry from leaving the port. Jersey maritime police are circling to monitor the situation and what appears to be a Royal Navy patrol boat.

Several Jersey fishing boats have joined the French armada in support. One, the Normandy Trader, is seeking to broker talks. A Jersey minister is prepared to come out for negotiations if the boats allow safe passage.

Some French say blocking the port is going too far but others insist: “We haven’t come all this way for nothing!”

I am currently on board L’Omerta, a French fishing boat just under 12m long. Skipper Olivier Andreani, 32, has erected a banner on the boat in English that reads: “Jersey government kill us.” 

"I hope we can come to an agreement. Otherwise we’ll cut off electricity to the island and prevent them from selling their catch in France."

One Jersey boat sped past hurling insults and gesticulating. His Jersey colleagues promised to take action to calm the situation.

07:10 AM

Jersey's fishermen will 'fish without licences' if French demands are met

Jersey's fishermen will "fish without licences" if the Government bows to French demands, the president of the local association has said. 

Don Thompson told Good Morning Britain: "We've already told our minister - our licences, some of our fishermen have paid a quarter of a million pounds for our licences - we're going to get rid of our licences and fish without licences.

"We just will not put up with those (French) boats being left to fish uncontrolled, unsustainably in our waters, whilst we're subject to all sorts of constraints."

He said: "It would be grossly unfair and highly discriminatory on our fleet to have to fish against that huge (French) fleet out there in our waters and see those boats have no constraints whatsoever and for our boats to be subject to all sorts of conditions.

"That would just be absolutely unacceptable."

07:08 AM

What is happening off the coast of Jersey?

For islanders waking up this morning, things might look rather busy. 

The French flotilla, of between 60 and 100 boats, has arrived - and the two Navy gunboats are just beyond. 

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07:06 AM

Jersey fishermen urge Boris Johnson not to 'capitulate' to French fishermen

The president of Jersey Fishermen's Association has called on Boris Johnson to stand firm and not "capitulate" to threats by the French government, as up to 100 fishermen blockade the port of St Helier. 

Don Thompson said the "big question on everybody's lips right now is 'will our Government capitulate to that sort of tactic?"'.

He told Good Morning Britain: "The French fishermen out there want conditions removed from their licences so that they can fish with no constraints in our waters, whilst our boats are subject to all sorts of conditions about how much they can catch, where they can go."

He said it would be "grossly unfair" if the Government does "capitulate to that" and said such tactics might be used "again and again in the future".

He added: "They're not very happy fishermen down here this morning, suspecting that we probably will see our Government give in to that."

06:59 AM

Don't forget your pencil: Polling stations to be 'reassuringly different', says elections watchdog

Voters have been urged to bring their own pencils and show patience, as "two years' worth of elections" take place under Covid restrictions today. 

Screens, social distancing and hand sanitiser will be used in polling stations across the country, with those taking part asked to wear face masks. 

Craig Westwood, director of communications and policy, told Radio 4's Today programme it would feel "reassuringly different and reassuringly familiar", but said voters must be patient both at the stations and for the longer-than-usual count.

"It’s Super Thursday, we have two years worth of elections happening today. There are a lot of elections, a lot of democracy... It will take time.

"The most important thing is that people are kept safe. This is just a call for patience for everyone to wait for the results."

06:59 AM

PM: Tories have delivered more in four years than Labour did in decades

The Conservatives have delivered more in four years than Labour did in decades, Boris Johnson said on Wednesday night as he pledged to cut crime and fill potholes in bid to retain key mayoralties on Thursday.

The Prime Minister used his eve-of-election address to appeal to voters in Tees Valley and the West Midlands, where the Tories hope their mayoral candidates, Ben Houchen and Andy Street, will be elected for second terms.

"It's Conservative Mayors who are bringing new investment and local jobs to their areas," Mr Johnson said.

"A new freeport and green jobs are on their way to Teesside and new trams, metro lines and station upgrades to the West Midlands. More has been delivered by Conservatives in four years than complacent Labour politicians have delivered in decades."

The latest polling shows the Tories will sweep to an historic victory in Thursday' votes, which span mayoral elections, local councils, police and crime commissioners, Scottish and Welsh devolved assembly members and a by-election in Hartlepool.

Mr Johnson said the Hartlepool vote would be a "very tough fight" in a seat that "hasn't been a Conservative since its inception – 46 years ago, or whatever it was".