He can behave positively – trying to stand firm in favor of EU negotiators or his internal audience. But as they try to decide what happens after the Brexit transition period ends in December, Britain and the EU do seem to be at a dead end.
Johnson complained, “They want the continued ability to control our legislative freedom, our fishing in a way that is clearly unacceptable to an independent state.”
French President Emmanuel Macron has insisted that French caves should not lose their rights to extract mackerel from the English Channel.
“By no means will our fishermen be victims of Brexit,”
If Britain does not allow French fishermen in its waters, the EU will have no choice but to block energy supplies to the UK, Macron said.
This is worth repeating. The French president is threatening to start mutilation energy embargo against the United Kingdom over fishing rights.
No economist has noticed that fishing accounts for just 0.12 percent of Britain’s gross domestic product, which the London Times reports nearly 60 times. less than the financial services sector in the capital.
French fisheries account for perhaps 1% of its GDP, compared to comparable numbers in the Netherlands and Denmark.
These three EU countries are relying on British waters to fill their networks. A quarter of France’s national catch comes from British fruit waters.
Certainly, the fish agreement is not the only thing hindering the post-Brexit trade. The two countries are also fighting for “equal conditions” and government subsidies and Irish tariffs.
But fishing has a special resonance. This plays the role of the romance of the ancient battles between Britain and France, as well as the nationalism that drove Brexit.
During Johnson’s winning campaign for Brexit in the summer of 2016, the future prime minister ignited passions with the idea that foreigners take too many English fish.
Since then, fishing has played a huge role in the Brexit negotiations, said Simon Ashwood, a professor of politics at the University of Surrey.
“In objective economic terms, this is a rather trivial part of the economy, both on the part of the EU and the United Kingdom. “It’s not really about economics, it’s much more symbolic,” he said. “But it reflects all the way to Brexit. We focus as much on the symbolic as on the essential. “
Standing in fishing, Macron suggested at a news conference last week that he would help Johnson win at least a partial victory in the event of a no-deal result.
“Fisheries is a topic used tactically by the British. Why? Because, in case there is no deal, this is the only topic on which Boris Johnson can say that he has won, “Macron said. “If there is no deal, European fishermen will not have access to UK waters at all. This is the reality. “
On Thursday, Clement Bonn, Macron’s European minister, and Anic Girardin, the French ocean minister, traveled to the village of Port en Bessin, not far from Omaha beach, to calm restless fishermen.
“We will negotiate calmly and with great firmness,” Bonn said.
The French have already rejected the proposed compromise, which would lead to an annual renegotiation of fishing quotas between France and Britain. As Bonn says on his visit to the beaches of Normandy: “Too much complexity, too little visibility for fishermen.”
Beyond the political demonstration, many fishermen on France’s cold, rocky northern coast have expressed concern about the future of their industry, especially after the devastating months of blockade during the coronavirus pandemic.
“If this is a deal without a deal, it will be chaos! We will have to stop the boats because we will not be able to fish anywhere, “said Dimitri Rogoff, president of the Normandy Regional Fisheries Committee, in an interview with the French newspaper Les Echos.
Sophie Leroy, who owns and operates four fishing boats with her husband, said nearly 80 percent of their catch comes from British waters. Brexit without a deal would cripple French fishing, she told Les Echos that it could also hurt British fishing.
“If there is no deal, we will not allow any British fish to enter our French ports,” Leroy said. “We will not sacrifice our companies and we will just let the British market their products.”
Brexit’s ingenious slogan “take control back” fits well with the story of the British, who unilaterally control who will fish in their waters. But fisheries management is a global negotiation.
Most fish caught in British waters are not eaten by the British, but go to France and Spain, where there is a high demand for flatfish caught in British waters and where people eat more fish per capita.
Meanwhile, the British are prone to shrimp that come from outside British waters.
“Fish are not always where consumers are,” Ashwood said. “The nice, simple story that we need to be able to fish in our waters ignores what happens to the fish after you catch it.”
Barry Diaz, executive director of the National Federation of Fisheries Organizations, says Britain’s fishing industry has been ‘ill-treated’ by the EU
When Britain joined the European Economic Community – the EU’s predecessor – in the 1970s, “fishing was really sold out. “It was considered costly and that connected us to an asymmetric and exploitative relationship for 40 years,” he said.
According to Dees, what Johnson’s negotiators want is “nothing very unusual, just the usual relationship that two coastal states that share shares have with each other.” I think what we are looking for is the international norm. “
Still, Deas admits that fishing “has become symbolic of Brexit.”
Martin Boyers, chief executive of the Grimsby Fish Market on the north-east coast of England, said fishing was “of low economic importance, but very high in emotional terms.” So fishing has taken center stage, which is unique to us. Usually no one bothers to fish. “
Still, Boyers said he wanted to make a subtle but very important point. The British fishing industry wants not only to regain control of the waters, but also to import and export freely with Europe through its processors.
In Britain, Boyers said, 80 percent of the fish the British catch is exported, and 80 percent of what the British eat – mainly cod and haddock for fish and chips – is imported.
So free trade is crucial.
Much of the fish in the Grimsby fish market comes from Norway and Iceland via shipping containers. It was not caught a few miles from shore, and in fact Grimsby does not have a very local fishing fleet these days.
Referring to the negotiations, Boyers warned: “Although the focus is on Europeans entering our waters, we also have concerns about quotas, trade and tariffs on the part of Iceland and Norway.”
Meaning? “At the end of the day, we hope that meaning will prevail and come up with a sensible solution. But it’s complicated. “
He said: “We used to be the fifth largest fishing port in the world. We are not now. The only way we can go is up. “
McAuli reports from Paris.