‘Next time it will be war’: France rages over warships
Tensions between France and the UK have reached boiling point after 100 French ships threatening to "blockade" a key port.
The UK responded by sending over warships.
The two countries are involved in a bitter dispute over fishing rights in the English Channel.
At the centre of the quarrel is Jersey, a British dependency near the coast of France.
French fishermen are apoplectic after the UK imposed rules governing access for fishing boats near the Channel Islands.
The dispute is so toxic that a French minister threatened to cut underwater cables which deliver the island's electricity supply.
French fishing boats converged on Jersey, threatening a blockade but then retreated from the island, warning "next time there will be war".
The furious French fishermen set off flares as dozens of boats began arriving just after 6am as the huge row over post-Brexit fishing rights intensified.
Two Royal Navy gunships - HMS Severn and HMS Tamar - dramatically stepped in after being deployed by UK PM Boris Johnson following the threat of a French blockade.
They were armed with a 20mm cannon, which can fire 700 rounds a minute at a range of 1.1km.
Just after 1pm the fishing boats started to retreat from the island which lies 22km off the French coast.
But the defiant French fishermen issued a call to arms and vowed to return.
The navy boats have now been ordered back to port on the mainland, with one already gone and the other due to leave on Friday morning (UK time).
A UK government spokesman said: "We are pleased that French fishing boats have now left the vicinity of Jersey.
"Given the situation is resolved for now, the Royal Navy Offshore Patrol Vessels will prepare to return to port in the UK. We remain on standby to provide any further assistance Jersey requests."
War cry as French fishermen refuse to give in
A crewman called Popeye told the UK's Telegraph: "We will go back, and next time it will be war."
Tense video footage from earlier in the day showed one of the navy gunships keeping watch and patrolling the harbour as French vessels protested near the capital Saint Helier.
Then, the situation intensified further as French President Emmanuel Macron sent French navy patrol vessel Athos to the island in a stand-off against the British warships.
Just before noon, a second French navy vessel, Themis, was also spotted heading towards Jersey.
Mr Johnson offered his "unequivocal support for Jersey" as the fishing row escalated.
Warning "any blockade would be completely unjustified", Mr Johnson vowed the navy vessels would "remain in place" after being scrambled to patrol the Channel waters.
Locals said tensions are running "very high" today as footage showed boats descending on the small island.
Navy steps in as scene looks 'like an invasion'
Jersey fisherman Josh Dearing, 28, said: "There were a few handheld 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 12m or more.
Mr Dearing 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."
Mr Dearing said he was "absolutely" pleased to hear that Royal Navy vessels were being deployed to patrol the waters around Jersey.
He said: "We're completely unprotected in Jersey. We've got nothing except for a few police officers. We don't have a police boat, we don't have a navy boat, we don't have anything to protect us.
"The French can be hostile. All of our livelihoods are in that harbour and if they wanted to they could cause damage."
Post-Brexit fishing licence changes infuriate France
The quarrel erupted after the island - which is under Britain's protection - slapped French trawlers with post-Brexit fishing licence requirements.
Tensions then escalated after one of Macron's key allies threatened to pull the plug on the tiny island's electricity and French fishermen vowed to blockade ports to cut off food and medicine.
French Maritime Minister Annick Girardin threatened to cut off the island's power of which 95 per cent is generated on the continent and supplied by three underwater cables.
She blasted: "We are ready to use these retaliation measures. I am sorry it has come to this. We will do so if we have to."
The threat was branded an "act of war" by the UK government, and Mr Johnson sent the warships to the island.
Following the blockade, UK ministers are now said to be drawing up plans to "retaliate" by reviewing energy links with France.
According to the Telegraph, Britain could buy electricity from the Netherlands instead.
Meanwhile, government sources have accused the French of sinking lower than the island's Nazi occupiers in the Second World War.
A source told the Telegraph: "At least when the Germans invaded they kept the lights on."
Meanwhile, French fishing industry leader David Sellam accused the Jersey authorities of being lead "by extremists".
He said: "All they want is to see the French fishing effort reduced and they profit from Brexit.
"If we want peace, let's prepare for war … If we want to bring the Jersey fishery to its knees, we can do it."
Restaging the Battle of Trafalgar
On Thursday morning, French fishermen were bracing themselves for a fight as they prepared to take on the Royal Navy.
Jean-Claude La Vaullée, skipper of Le Cach, said: "I've refuelled the boat - we're ready to restage the Battle of Trafalgar."
The furious Mr La Vaullée, who has been fishing off Jersey for more than 40 years, said he had now been given the right to just "11 hours fishing a year" in the area.
Ms Girardin on Wednesday accused Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands, of refusing to issue adequate new licences to French fishermen.
Bertrand Sorre, France's English Channel MP, said: "This unilateral decision by Jersey is totally illegal.
"We have been subject to the whims of the United Kingdom for too long. The European Commission must do its job."
Head of fisheries for the Normandy region, Dimitri Rogoff, said the French fishing vessels launched the blockade as part of a protest against the new rules.
Jersey residents welcome navy protection
Meanwhile Jersey's 100,000 residents were relieved to see their British warships arrive in port, as the island is wholly dependent on imports for its food, medicine and electricity.
Supermarket bosses on the island today warned their shelves will be empty by Saturday unless the Royal Navy can stop French trawlers blockading the port.
Stocks of bread, fruit, fresh meat and vegetables will be gone if freight ships cannot deliver their crucial daily supplies, CEO of Jersey Co-op Mark Cox said.
Mr Cox said the island is relying on the navy ships to make sure the French boats back off.
The last freight ship, Commodore Goodwill, arrived in Jersey at 4.30am and there is another scheduled for tonight, but supermarket chiefs fear it may not get through.
Mr Cox told The Sun: "The port is a lifeline to the island and it is absolutely critical that the freight vessels can get into the port.
"It's vital that those routes are kept clear. The shelves will be bare within two days if the port is blocked.
"At this stage we are reliant on the Royal Navy to keep the freight ships coming into the island on a daily basis."
Following crisis talks with the island's leadership, Downing Street said: "The Prime Minister underlined his unwavering support for Jersey.
"He said that any blockade would be completely unjustified. As a precautionary measure the UK will be sending two Offshore Patrol Vessels to monitor the situation.
"They agreed the UK and Jersey Governments would continue to work closely on this issue."
Originally published as 'Next time it will be war': France rages