The UK government has agreed an 'unprecedented' move to give Westminster powers to take legislative control of Channel Islands waters during Brexit negotiations.
Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Environment, Fisheries, and Food, Victoria Prentis MP, demanded the measure during a House of Commons debate on the UK Fisheries Bill:
"Given the pressures on all the parliamentary timetables in the run-up to the end of the transition period, we felt that in a spirit of co-operation we should, if possible, make these changes for them."
Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal-Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland, responded - asking why UK politicians were being asked to vote on a Bill that hadn't been agreed with the Channel Islands first. Victoria Prentis made this reply:
"Government amendment 36 includes a permissive extent clause that will allow the UK Government to legislate for the Crown Dependencies to ensure compliance with our international obligations.
"That follows a great deal of discussion with the Crown Dependencies and I recognise that they take their international obligations seriously.
"I reassure Members and, indeed, the Crown Dependencies, that activation of the permissive extent clause would only ever be used as a last resort and I am looking forward to continuing discussions with the Crown Dependencies on that in the next few days and weeks."
UK Ministers have defended Westminster's ability to legislate for the Crown Dependencies, while Channel Islands politicians have slammed it as 'unconstitutional'.
Sir Robert Neill, the Conservative MP from Bromley and Chislehurst spoke out, voicing objections from the Channel Islands' governments:
"it is not just a question of continuing discussions. As things stand, the governments and legislatures of both Jersey and Guernsey object.
"It is not just that they do not think a permissive extent clause is necessary; they object to its inclusion in the Bill. It is truly unprecedented for the Government to insist upon a permissive extent clause without the agreement of the relevant Crown Dependencies.
"Why, even in an emergency, go down this rather provocative step? Why not wait until such time as an emergency arises and let them legislate, as they have indicated they would?"
Mrs. Prentis responded, again defending the UK Government's actions:
"The Government feel (sic) that it is important, given that these are significant matters of international law, that we retain the ability to legislate for the Crown Dependencies if they do not show the inclination to do so when needed.
"We very much doubt that this will be necessary. I am sorry that they are upset by this stand, but I do feel that it is the right thing to do in the circumstances at the moment."
Guernsey politicians have hit out, Newly re-elected Deputy Heidi Soulsby called the move 'totally unacceptable' and said Mrs. Prentis' comments 'show no respect whatsoever'.
Well we’re not just going to sit back and let them do it without challenge and I’m sure that’s happening right now.— Heidi Soulsby (@HeidiSoulsby) October 14, 2020
In a statement to Channel 103, the Government of Jersey hit back at the 'unnecessary' meddling - saying the island will retain 'full control' of its territorial waters regardless of the UK Bill:
"Jersey Ministers have regularly made clear to UK Ministers that Jersey domestic legislation provides comprehensively for the management of Jersey’s fishing opportunities and is sufficient to give effect to international obligations. There is no reason to extend parts of UK legislation and the inclusion of the PEC is unnecessary.
“The extension of any part of the UK Fisheries Bill would require that an Order in Council be made. Under the States of Jersey Law, an Order in Council can only have effect in Jersey if it is put forward by the Chief Minister and approved by the States Assembly.
"Accordingly, Jersey retains full control of its fisheries legislation, and control of our territorial waters is not impacted by the inclusion of this PEC in the Fisheries Bill.”
It follows national press coverage on the issue last month, which prompted Jersey Ministers to defend the island's constitutional independence:
The Minister for the Environment has made a statement in response to recent reports in the UK media pic.twitter.com/An85LiwAT1— Deputy Ian Gorst (@Ian_Gorst) September 16, 2020
Following Mrs. Prentis' comments, Guernsey's incumbent Chief Minister - Deputy Gavin St Pier - wrote to the Lord Chancellor. He has responded:
“I can assure you of the UK Government’s support for the longstanding constitutional position that the UK Parliament should not legislate for the Crown Dependencies on domestic matters without the Crown Dependencies’ consent.”
The Bailiwick's Policy and Resources Committee says it will be strengthening Guernsey's 'constitutional resilience' and re-iterated that the UK Fisheries Bill has no power over the islands without Jersey's and Guernsey's governments enacting their own matching laws first.