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Boris Johnson threatens a Brexit without agreement as Britain and France fight over fish

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He may be standing by trying to project a tough stance for the benefit of EU negotiators or his internal audience. One clue: He ignored a self-imposed deadline this week and refused to leave the talks at all.

But as they try to resolve what happens after a Brexit transition period expires in December, Britain and the EU really look at a stalemate over fish.

Johnson complained: They want the continued ability to control our legislative freedom, our fishing, in a way that is clearly unacceptable to an independent country.

French President Emmanuel Macron insisted that French bakers should not lose their rights to extract mackerel from the English Channel.

Under no circumstances will our fisherman be the one to sacrifice for Brexit, Macron told RFE / RL radio on Friday as he arrived in Brussels for a European summit. We have not chosen Brexit, this is the choice of the British people.

If Britain does not allow French fishermen into its waters, the EU would have no choice but to block energy supplies to the UK, Macron said.

This is worth repeating. The French president is threatening to launch a mutilator energy embargo v. Britain on fisheries rights.

No economist has escaped, noting that fishing accounts for only 0.12 per cent of Britain’s gross domestic product, which the Times of London reported to be nearly 60 times less than the capital financial services sector.

French fisheries reach perhaps 1 percent of its GDP, with comparable numbers the Netherlands and Denmark.

These three EU countries rely on British waters to fill their nets. A quarter of France’s national catch comes from the waters of the fern Britains.

To be sure, a fish deal is not the only thing standing in the way of a post-Brexit trade deal. The two sides are also fighting for equal playing fields and state subsidies and Irish customs taxes.

But fishing has a special resonance. It plays into the romance of the ancient wars between Britain and France, as well as the nationalism that fueled Brexit.

During Johnsons’ winning Brexit campaign in the summer of 2016, the next prime minister sparked passions with the idea that foreigners were catching a lot of English fish.

Since then, fishing has played a major role in the Brexit negotiations, said Simon Usherwood, professor of politics at the University of Surrey.

In objective, economic terms, this is a rather insignificant part of the economy, both from the EU and the UK. This is not really about the economy, much more symbolic, he said. But it reflects all the way Brexit has gone. We focus on both the symbolic and the substantive.

Staying focused on fishing, Macron suggested at a news conference last week, it would help Johnson claim at least a partial victory in the event of a deal-free result.

Fishing is a topic tactically used by the British. Why Because, in the event of a dispute, is the only topic where Boris Johnson can say he won, Macron said. Without an agreement, European fishermen will have no access to UK waters at all. This is the reality.

On Thursday, Clment Beaune, Minister of Macron Europe, and Annick Girardin, Minister of Oceania Frances, traveled to the village of Port-en-Bessin, not far from Omaha Beach, to breed concerned fishermen.

We will negotiate with great calm and determination, Beaune said.

The French have already rejected a proposed compromise that would result in annual renegotiations of fishing quotas between France and Britain. As Beaune put it during his visit to the beaches of Normandy: Too much complexity, not enough sight for fishermen.

Beyond the political show, many fishermen on France’s cold and rocky north coast have expressed concerns about the future of their industry, especially after devastating months of blockage during the coronavirus pandemic.

If it is without agreement, it will be chaos! We will have to put boats in a dead end because we will not be able to fish anywhere, said Dimiti Rogoff, president of the Normandy Regional Fisheries Committee, speaking to the Frances Les Echos newspaper.

Sophie Leroy, who owns and operates four fishing boats with her husband, said nearly 80 per cent of their catches come from British waters. A Brexit without a deal would hurt French fishing, she told Les Echos, it could also hurt British fishing.

If there is a no-deal deal, we will not allow a single British fish to enter our French ports, Leroy said. We will not sacrifice our companies and just let them show their products in English.

The genius slogan of Brexits fits nicely with the narrative of the British who unilaterally control who can 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 huge demand for flatfish species caught in British waters and where people eat more fish per capita.

Meanwhile, the British are partial to the shrimp, which come from outside British waters.

Fish are not always where consumers are, Usherwood said. The beautiful and simple narrative that we should be able to fish in our waters neglects what happens to fish after you catch it.

Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fisheries Organizations, said the British fishing industry had been mistreated by the EU

When Britain joined the European Economic Community, the EU forerunner in the 1970s fishing was really sold. He was considered expendable and that tied us to an asymmetric and exploitative relationship for 40 years, he said.

In Deass’s assessment, what the Johnsons negotiators want is nothing very extraordinary, just the usual relationship that the 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 a symbol of Brexit.

Martyn Boyers, chief executive of the Grimsby Fish Market on the northeast coast of England, said fishing is low in economic importance but very high in emotional significance. So fishing has taken center stage, which is unique to us. Normally, no one cares about fishing.

However, Boyers said he wanted to point out a subtle but very important point. The British fishing industry wants not only to regain control of its waters, but to import and export freely with Europe, through its processors.

In Britain, Boyers said, 80 per cent of the fish caught by the British are exported and 80 per cent of what the British eat mainly cod and herb for fish and chips are imported.

So free trade is essential.

Most of the fish at the Grimsby Fish Market comes from Norway and Iceland through shipping containers. It is not caught a few miles from shore, and, in fact, Grimsby does not have a local fishing fleet these days.

Referring to the negotiations, Boyers warned, while the emphasis is on Europeans entering our waters, we also have concerns about quotas, trade and tariffs from Iceland and Norway.

Meaning? At the end of the day, we hope the sense prevails and will come up with a reasonable solution. But it is complex.

He said, We have been the fifth largest fishing port in the world. We are not now. The only way we can go is upstairs.

McAuley reported from Paris.

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