Jonathan Eyal, international director of the Royal United Services Institute, argues that the two sides are caught in a “pool game” with France “pulling the strings” behind the European Commission. He says Remainers has urged the EU to push Britain harder and says France believes the UK will blink first in the negotiations, allowing President Emmanuel Macron to present himself as a “great defender French national interests ”. Mr Macron, he says, has sought to use the dispute over fishing rights to build support ahead of the next presidential election in coastal communities where he may be vulnerable to Marine Le Pen’s right-wing National Front, now renamed National Rally.
But he warned the ‘feeling that is omnipresent in Paris [is] that they can still maintain European unanimity on squeezing Great Britain and that Britain will finally be ready to be pressed ”.
Stressing the importance for the Prime Minister to convince France that it is serious to leave without a deal, he said: “The problem he had is that the no deal option never seemed credible enough to persuade the French not to go there. further in this bet. This is the problem, this is the difficulty facing the Prime Minister.
Mr Eyal said it was “always true that the French are pulling the strings behind the Commission” and described how France has been able to manipulate the EU.
“All I can say is that for the French, the European Union is the gift that never ceases to give,” he said. “It allows them to put pressure on other countries and it allows them to attach everyone to what very often – not always but very often – are only French national interests disguised as European Union interests.
“The curiosity of the British position has been that repeated prime ministers – Theresa May and Boris Johnson – have turned to Germany to ease French pressure,” he said. ” [They] thought the Germans would somehow pull a rabbit out of the hat by putting pressure on the French.
« [The] British hopes have always been misplaced because in the end the Germans had other calculations which prevented them from putting too much pressure on the French.
Describing how Remainers weakened Britain’s negotiating position, he said: “The problems for British prime ministers over the past four years are that there is so much noise in London, including from people who think that the decision to leave the European Union overturned, [it] encourages foreign leaders to believe that you can push Britain further. ”
He argues that it would be impossible for a British Prime Minister to accept the “level playing field” sought by the EU and to commit the United Kingdom to comply with European regulations.
He said: “I mean, this is really the ultimate blank check in every way possible… Brexit has happened.
“We are where we are. I don’t see any British Prime Minister able to accept such an outrageous assertion that you basically say ‘I will respect whatever you decide for the next 20 to 30 years’.
Mr Eyal asserts that “nobody wants a complete breakdown in the negotiations” and says that it is possible that Poland and Germany “end up breaking ranks” with France.
He suggests that a compromise could be found on fishing so that the reduction in catches by French fishermen in British waters does not take place until after the French presidential elections in April 2022.
But he has no doubts about the high stakes of the talks.
He said: “The problem is, it’s really like a Russian roulette game where everyone pulls the trigger in the hope that the ball isn’t there to blow your brains out. ”