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Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called on Mr Macron to give ground on fisheries, warning the French President that Britain will have to walk away from Brexit talks if he does not budge. The Prime Minister spoke with Mr Macron on the telephone on Saturday with seemingly just days to go for an agreement on a future trade settlement to be struck. Mr Johnson told the key EU leader he would “explore every avenue” to secure a deal, but was prepared to leave the Brexit transition period at the end of the year on Australian-style terms if necessary.
France is a leading member of the “coastal eight” group, which is said to be digging in hardest in talks, insisting that EU countries should maintain exactly the same rights to fish in British waters.
One senior Government source told the Sunday Times the position was “ludicrous”.
However, some British officials reportedly believe Mr Macron might prefer to blame the UK for the failure of negotiations than force his fishermen to accept reduced quotas.
As tensions are set to rise in the incoming days and the clock ticks down, in a recent report, Professor of French History John Keiger shed light on Mr Macron and Mr Johnson’s conversation over the weekend.
Professor Keiger, a former research director of the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge, argued the two leaders are now very much in the same boat – as they both desperately need a Brexit deal.
He wrote: “Emmanuel Macron and Boris Johnson have had a bad pandemic for similar reasons: lack of PPE, confused messaging on masks and quarantine, poor quality test and trace and unreliable COVID apps on phones (with the French Prime Minister and Sundry ministers confessing not to have even downloaded the French version, which is unusable with a mere 2.6 million downloads).
“Both are facing hostility from within their parties. Both are suffering in the polls.
“There isn’t much that Boris and Emmanuel can do for each other on coronavirus, but there is on Brexit.
“Both Mr Johnson and Mr Macron need a deal politically, but for different reasons.”
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The French leader’s needs, Professor Keiger noted, are domestic and foreign.
Domestically France has much to lose from a no deal, as various parliamentary commissions have pointed out.
The Professor explained: “France runs a massive trade surplus with the UK of €10billion (£9 billion), notably in sectors with long traditions of militancy against the French state, from wine-making to agriculture. Fishing, though a tiny contributor to GDP and with small numbers working in the industry, is of that radical tradition. Much is situated in the Brittany region, whose militancy in recent times was on display with the 2013 violent bonnet rouge protests and then the gilets jaunes.
“Though few in number, discontented French fishermen have formed when it comes to blocking cross-Channel ports and the option of doing serious damage by blockading France’s prime trade port, Le Havre. The consequence of a no deal for France, according to a report from the leading German Halle Institute for Economic Research released in February last year, is for 50,000 French job losses. Coming on top of coronavirus unemployment, which is predicted to be over 10 percent by early next year, the impact on an already fractured French society would be devastating.
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“A potential rival to Macron in 2022, his former very popular Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, predicted only a month ago that France was facing ‘an economic, a health and a social storm.”
At the foreign policy level, Prof Keiger added, Mr Macron cannot risk a no deal resulting from French intransigence on fishing, when only nine of the 27 member states have an interest in fishing rights in UK waters.
For someone with an ambition to lead Europe after Brexit, a further example of French egotism would not emblazon his banner as the self-appointed leader of Europe, he said.
Prof Keiger concluded for his piece on the Spectator: “Mr Johnson also needs a deal, more so than six months ago, because of his poor handling of the pandemic. He badly needs a political win and getting Brexit done with a deal is the best scenario for his popularity while allowing him to move beyond Brexit.
“However, a deal at any price could provoke a revolt from within the Conservative Party and raise the prospect of Nigel Farage’s return. So both Macron and Boris need a reasonable Brexit deal to assuage the political impact of the pandemic. Each can scratch the other’s back on Brexit. Their political futures depend on it.”
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