On Wednesday evening, it was widely reported that the UK was to send two gunboats to the self-governing British island of Jersey, located just 14 miles off the coast of France. France announced Thursday that it will send its own navy ships to monitor the situation.
British warships were deployed in response to a protest by French fishermen at the port of St Helier, the capital of Jersey, over post-Brexit rules on fishing rights. In short, France is angry that after decades of unimpeded access to the waters around Jersey, fishing vessels must now provide proof that they have historically fished the waters and the paperwork required since the Great Brittany left the European Union.
By mid-afternoon, French fishing boats would leave the port, ending the demonstration.
As both sides in this dispute attempt to disparage the drama, claiming that French ships will not actually block the port and UK government officials insist they don’t want the situation to escalate, the word ” war ”is hard to avoid by looking at the headlines.
Despite all these denunciations, the blame most likely lies with the UK and EU’s decision to strike a last-minute trade deal at the end of December, just days before its implementation, after having kept details of negotiations secret for months. “When you come to an agreement at the 11th hour and you do not adequately tell the parties concerned what it means to them, problems like this are inevitable,” says Anand Menon, professor of European politics at King’s College. London.
At first glance, the British gunboats appeared to be a dramatic escalation, especially after Dimitri Rogoff, fisheries manager for the French region of Normandy, told CNN that French fishing boats would not create a blockade, just a protest. He added that Thursday’s action “will signal” the “frustration of the French with licenses but it is not an act of war.”
Downing Street has kept its official responses measured, with a senior government official wishing to point out Thursday morning that despite the presence of Royal Navy ships, French ships are not blocking.
So why send the boats? A UK government minister admitted that while they really hope the navy ships ‘nip this in the bud’, it was also ‘impossible to ignore threats from the French government to cut off electricity in Jersey’ . Which, yes, has really happened, and is very serious, given that 95% of Jersey’s electricity comes from submarine cables from France.
Unfortunately, history shows that the wasps fishing between France and Britain have a habit of getting out of hand. It wasn’t until 2018 that scallop catchers threw rocks and smoke bombs at each other. And while the ‘scallop wars’ and gunboats in the face of small fishing boats are all slightly ludicrous, the fact that this happens just over four months after the UK’s new relationship with the UK began. The EU is another alarming sign of how lingering resentment over Brexit threatens to turn into a real conflict. at the drop of a hat.
The United States even deemed the spat sufficiently serious to intervene. “The Ministry of Defense encourages the continuation of the dialogue to resolve the Franco-British bilateral problems. The two countries are valuable NATO allies, ”a Pentagon spokesperson said Thursday.
Fishing was arguably the biggest obstacle to reaching a trade deal between the two parties towards the end of 2020. Despite the small contribution of fishing to the economies of France and the UK, it is a topic. extremely moving for some people. Something about the fall of historic fishing towns was particularly evocative in the UK Brexit debate and was consistently cited by the Leave campaign, which claimed that leaving the EU would allow UK boats, free of EU quotas. , to fish as they please.
This emotion partly explains the dramatic headlines of “The Act of War”. And despite Downing Street’s insistence that they want the situation to calm down, a cynic might wonder if the press that is totally hostile to France is actually useful enough for Boris Johnson.
The UK is holding a critical election on Thursday amid a spate of scandals surrounding the Johnson government. Menon notes that “it’s almost a perfect story for Johnson. He manages to sound harsh on France, which goes well with his heart, while taking high moral standards and talking about de-escalation. “
There is a longer-term risk that Johnson’s Brexit will appear increasingly rushed and flawed. The water disputes with France are far from the only fallout from leaving the EU. After these local elections, Johnson is going to have a hell of a job keeping his country united, as the four nations of the UK are pulling more and more in different directions. In Scotland, that could mean leaving the UK. In Northern Ireland, this could mean a return to deadly sectarian violence.
However, as it stands on Thursday, circumstances appear to have given Johnson a golden public relations opportunity on a day when he would otherwise be prohibited from creating information that could affect the way people vote. In the event that this leads to a positive election result, combined with the UK coronavirus situation improving day by day, Johnson’s opponents will no doubt be wondering what they can do to derail the luckiest man in politics.