THE UK has sent in Royal Navy vessels to patrol waters around Jersey as French boats gathered to protest over post-Brexit fishing rules.

HMS Severn and HMS Tamar have been deployed by the UK Government to “monitor the situation” at the Channel Island.

French maritime minister Annick Girardin had warned on Tuesday that the country is ready to take “retaliatory measures”, accusing Jersey of dragging its feet over issuing new licences to French boats.

The UK has been criticised for the move, with some seeing it as gunboat diplomacy designed to boost Tory electoral chances today.

Former British ambassador Craig Murray said he could “not believe how stupid, on every level, it is to send in gunboats”.

Screengrabs from video courtesy of Alex Ferguson showing French fishing vessels staging a protest outside the harbour at St Helier, Jersey

Dozens of French boats arrived at the harbour this morning, with some crews setting off flares during the so far peaceful protest, according to the Jersey Evening Post.

The newspaper later said the leader of the protest had asked the French boats to leave the harbour to let a freight ferry, the Commodore Goodwill, depart.

Paris has warned it could cut off power to the island, which receives 95% of its electricity from France through three undersea cables, in retaliation for the fallout.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “HMS Severn and HMS Tamar are deploying to Jersey to conduct maritime security patrols.

“This is a strictly precautionary measure and has been agreed with the Jersey Government.”

A Downing Street spokesman added: “The Prime Minister and Chief Minister stressed the urgent need for a de-escalation in tensions and for dialogue between Jersey and France on fishing access.

“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.”

The row began after the island implemented new requirements under the terms of the UK-EU trade deal for boats to submit evidence of their past fishing activities in order to receive a licence to carry on operating in Jersey waters.

Yesterday, Jersey External Affairs Minister Ian Gorst held talks with Marc Lefevre, the president of the La Manche region of northern France, on the “difficult set of issues relating to fishing licences”.

“There are a number of important matters which we will continue to work through,” he said.

Gorst said the island is not seeking to bar boats which have historically fished in Jersey waters and insisted the dispute can be resolved amicably.

He said that of the 41 boats which sought licences under the new rules last Friday, all but 17 had provided the evidence required.

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“The trade deal is clear but I think there has been some confusion about how it needs to be implemented, because we absolutely respect the historic rights of French fishermen to fish in Jersey waters as they have been doing for centuries,” he said.

“I do think a solution can be found.

“I am optimistic that we can provide extra time to allow this evidence to be provided.”

Meanwhile Jersey’s largest oyster producer said he would stand in solidarity with French fishermen and would back a “peaceful” port blockade.

Chris Le Masurier, who owns the Jersey Oyster Company, called conditions on fishing licences for Breton and Norman fishermen “insulting and discriminatory”.

“I will stand with them and take the Normandy Trader [boat] and be with them to take part in a peaceful protest. It has been an absolute disgrace by our government. It is about protecting people’s historic rights, livelihoods and friendships which have been forged over years,” he told the Jersey Evening Post.