Britain's government said Wednesday it is sending two Royal Navy vessels to monitor the situation on the island of Jersey, amid a dispute with France over fishing rights in the waters there following Britain's departure from the European Union.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there was an "urgent need for a de-escalation in tensions and for dialogue between Jersey and France on fishing access."
The decision to send in the offshore patrol vessels came after the Prime Minister held emergency talks with the chief minister of Jersey on Wednesday evening, with as many as 60 French boats expected to descend on its main port, St Helier.
The flotilla, made up of fishermen angered by Jersey's decision to place new restrictions on fishing licences granting access to its waters, has threatened to bring the island "to its knees".
Authorities on Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands and a self-governing British Crown Dependency near the coast of northern France, have accused France of acting disproportionately after Paris threatened to cut off electricity.
French maritime minister Annick Girardin warned on Tuesday that France was ready to take "retaliatory measures" after it accused Jersey of stalling in issuing licenses to French boats under the terms of the UK's post-Brexit trade deal with the EU.
Girardin said Wednesday in Le Parisien newspaper that Jersey's requirements are "not acceptable."
Johnson's spokesman said "any blockade would be completely unjustified," and that the UK will send two Navy vessels as a "precautionary measure."
The external affairs minister for Jersey, Ian Gorst, said Jersey was just following new rules that took effect last week.
"This is not the first threat that the French have made to either Jersey or the United Kingdom since we are into this new deal," Gorst told the BBC. "It would seem disproportionate to cut off electricity for the sake of needing to provide extra details so that we can refine the licenses."
Britain is responsible for the island's foreign relations even though Jersey is not technically part of the UK. Jersey and the other Channel Islands, which are closer to France than to Britain, are self-governing dependencies of the UK that have their own administrations and elected legislatures.
The Marine Management Organisation – which patrols Britain's waters – has four Royal Navy river-class offshore patrol vessels at its disposal, which are tasked with enforcement and protection of fisheries.
French government spokesman Gabriel Attal declined to comment on the electricity issue on Wednesday, but he expressed France's "total determination" to fully implement the post-Brexit agreement with the UK, especially regarding the fishing industry.
"We will continue to do everything we can to make sure this agreement is respected," he said.
- AP with Telegraph UK