‘It’s not about facts, it’s about Brexit’ Bitter France using fishing row to score points

UK-France fishing row still has ‘flammable material’ says Deas

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Ingo Malcher argued that the situation had reached a crisis point because politicians from both countries had to “score [political] points domestically”. With the EU failing to back France on the matter, he called for the economic bloc to “step in and press for a quick deal – difficult as that may seem.”

The French government has repeatedly threatened to sanction the UK and Jersey over a perceived lack of access to British waters for its fishermen.

This is because the two governments have not granted all the licenses submitted to them for French vessels to fish in their waters in the months since Brexit.

In May, two Royal Naval river-class patrol boats – HMS Severn and HMS Tamar – had to be sent to Jersey, after French fishermen threatened to blockade Jersey’s harbour in protest over a perceived lack of access to its waters.

In the latest stage of the diplomatic row, last week a British scallop dredging vessel was seized by French authorities off the coast of Le Havre following accusations from the French it was in their waters without a license – a matter Mr Malcher cited.

The Cornelis Gert Jan was released last night (Wednesday) without a fine after an appeal court quashed the claim.

France had previously said it could stop UK boats landing in its ports if the row over fishing licenses for French vessels was not resolved by midnight on Monday night.

However, after the UK Government threatened to start “rigorous” checks on EU fishing activities in retaliation, just hours before his own deadline, Emmanuel Macron climbed down.

On Monday night he cancelled the threats, and said that France would return to discussions with the UK and the European Commission – which have continued this week.

In a piece entitled “They’re all crazy” in the Die Ziet newspaper, German economic editor Mr Malcher commented: “the matter has long ceased to be about facts. As a result of Brexit, the dispute between France and Great Britain escalated.

“Instead of calming the situation, the French Minister for European Affairs, Clément Beaune, recently said that there would be ‘no tolerance and no concession’ in the fisheries dispute and that unfortunately they would now have to use the language of violence.”

He added that the leaders of the two nations – Britain’s Boris Johnson and France’s Emmanuel Macron – “have to score points domestically.”

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Mr Macron, he said, “is fighting for his re-election in April. His possible opponent, right-wing radical Éric Zemmour, never tires of repeating: ‘The British have won the Brexit battle.’

“So Macron must prevent Brexit from becoming a success for Johnson.”

Meanwhile, for Mr Johnson – who campaigned almost solely on the issue of Brexit during the 2019 general election, pledging to “get Brexit done” and whose deal the UK left the EU with – his “political fate is tied to Brexit.

“For him, leaving the EU must be a success.”

Mr Malcher claimed that the fishing industry was “practically insignificant” to either economy – making up 0.02 percent of the UK’s gross domestic product, and 0.04 percent of France’s.

“So, according to economic logic, fishing is not a sector that warrants a dispute. Especially not one where violence is spoken of and warships are cruising.”

However, the amount of weight put on the industry throughout the Brexit referendum and negotiation process by politicians on either side of the English Channel had made it politically significant.

Mr Malcher commented: “with so much glorification, no head of government can withdraw his support from the fishermen – in any case, there is no economic cost-benefit calculation behind it.”

He added: “What is irritating, however, is that the other EU states are so quiet in the dispute.

“Now is the time to step in and press for a quick deal – difficult as that may seem. Because the EU still has more in common with Great Britain than divides the two.

“And the global challenges – such as Russia’s ambitions, the rise of China, the future of NATO and of course climate change – are much more serious than fishing rights for fishing trawlers.”

Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg

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