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Jersey and Guernsey were left up in arms after Whitehall was granted permission to negotiate fishing rights in Crown dependency waters as part of the new UK Fisheries Bill. This is despite the islands being self-governing states, with the power to debate and make their own laws.
Minister for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity, Lord John Gardiner tabled an amendment in the Lords last week following approval from MPs.
The amendment of the Fisheries bill, known as a permissive extent clause, could allow the UK government to impose new fishing rules on Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man after Brexit – despite them looking to negotiate their own fisheries agreements.
The UK Government’s Fisheries Bill creates the powers for the UK to operate as an independent coastal state and manage its fish stocks sustainably outside the EU.
Speaking in the Lords, Lord Gardiner said: “The purpose of this clause is to ensure that we can support the Crown Dependencies to meet their international obligations.
“The debate on this clause comes at a time the Crown Dependencies, we know, are developing their international identities in accordance with the directions of their governments.
“Nevertheless, the UK remains responsible for their fisheries obligations under international law.
“This clause is not a means for imposing legislation on the Crown Dependencies unnecessarily.”
He stressed the clause would be used as a last resort in “unforeseen circumstances.”
But the Jersey and Guernsey governments and opposition peers lashed out claiming Westminster was “trampling” on their constitutional rights.
Crossbencher Lord Pannick, said: “It is the long-standing practice of Parliament that it does not legislate for the Crown Dependencies without their consent.
“As your Lords have heard, amendment 22 causes considerable concern in the Channel Islands and understandably so.
“It’s simply inexcusable for the Government to introduce a matter of constitutional importance so late in the Bill.”
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Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Beith said there was “increasing entrustment” for the Crown Dependencies which enables them “to develop their relations with the wider world”.
He referred to the Channel Islands as an important example because of their proximity to France.
Jonathan Le Tocq, the States of Guernsey external affairs minister, said they were “disappointed” by the UK government’s decision, stressing they would consider “further steps” to safeguard their autonomy.
He added: “Should any future government seek to extend this act without our consent, or make any attempt to legislate without our consent, that would be contrary to our important and historic constitutional relationship with the Crown and would offend democratic principles.”
Deputy Ian Gorst, Jersey’s external relations minister, argued any extension of the UK Fisheries Bill would require their States Assembly approval.
He added: “Jersey, therefore, retains full control of its fisheries legislation and territorial waters.”
Deputy Gorst had made clear it had a treaty in place with France known as the Bay of Granville Treaty which could be seen as a future basis for an EU relationship.
A revised deal under this treaty could see Jersey’s vessels have continued access to French ports for Jersey fishermen to land catches.
But in exchange for this, French ships will have access to the Island’s waters.
A UK Government spokesperson said: “[We are] constitutionally responsible for the international relations of the Crown dependencies”.
They added: “The permissive extent clause in the Fisheries Bill would only ever be used in exceptional circumstances following full consultation.
“We respect the long and proud tradition that the Crown dependencies are responsible for their own territorial waters.”
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