He may be holding on – trying to project a tough stance in favor of EU negotiators or his domestic audience. But as they try to figure out what’s happening after a Brexit transition period expires in December, Britain and the EU really do seem to be at a dead end to fish.
Johnson lamented: “They want the continued ability to control our legislative freedom, our fisheries, in a way that is clearly unacceptable to an independent country.”
French President Emmanuel Macron insisted that French pecheurs should not lose their rights to extract mackerel from the English Channel.
“Under no circumstances will our fishermen be the ones who were sacrificed for Brexit,”
If Britain does not allow French fishermen in its waters, the EU would have no choice but to block the energy supply to Britain, Macron said.
It is worth repeating. The French president threatens to launch a paralysis energy embargo against the United Kingdom over fishing rights.
It has not escaped any economist’s warning that fisheries represent only 0.12 per cent of Britain’s gross domestic product, which the Times of London pointed out is almost 60 times less than the capital’s financial services sector.
French fishing accounts for perhaps 1 percent of GDP, with comparable figures in the Netherlands and Denmark.
These three EU countries rely on British waters to fill their networks. A quarter of France’s national catch comes from Britain’s ancestral waters.
To be sure, an agreement on fish is not the only thing that stands in the way of a trade agreement after Brexit. The two sides are also fighting over “equal terms” and state aid and Irish tariffs.
But fishing has a particular resonance. It plays into the romance of old battles between Britain and France as well as the nationalism that drove Brexit.
During Johnson’s Brexit winning campaign in the summer of 2016, the future Prime Minister aroused passions with the idea that foreigners took too many English fish.
Since then, fisheries have played an excessive role in the Brexit negotiations, said Simon Usherwood, a professor of politics at the University of Surrey.
“In objective economic terms, this is a fairly trivial part of the economy, both on the EU and UK side. This is not really about economics, it is much more symbolic, ”he said. “It simply came to our notice then. We focus as much on the symbolic as on the material. ”
Sticking to fishing, Macron suggested at a news conference last week, would help Johnson claim at least a partial victory in the event of a no-deal result.
“Fishing is a subject used tactically by the British. Why? Because in case of no deal, it’s the only issue where Boris Johnson can say he won, ”Macron said. “If there is no agreement, European fishermen will not have access to British waters at all. This is the reality. ”
On Thursday, Clément Beaune, Macron’s European Minister, and Annick Girardin, France’s Minister of the Sea, traveled to the village of Port-en-Bessin, not far from Omaha Beach, to soften troubled fishermen.
“We will negotiate calmly and firmly,” Beaune said.
The French have already rejected a proposed compromise that would have resulted in annual renegotiation of fishing quotas between France and Britain. As Beaune put it on his visit to the beaches of Normandy: “Too much complexity, not enough visibility for fishermen.”
In addition to political showmanship, many fishermen on France’s cold, rocky north coast have expressed concern about the future of their industry, especially after devastating months of lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic.
“If it’s a no-deal, it’s going to be chaos! We have to stop the boats because we can not fish anywhere, “said Dimiti Rogoff, president of the Normandy Regional Fisheries Committee, speaking to the French newspaper Les Echos.
Sophie Leroy, who owns and operates four fishing boats with her husband, said nearly 80 per cent of their catch comes from British waters. A Brexit without a deal would be devastating to French fisheries, she told Les Echos, it could also hurt British fisheries.
“If there is no agreement, we will not let a single British fish enter our French ports,” Leroy said. “We are not going to sacrifice our companies and just let the English market their products.”
Brexit’s ingenious slogan “take back control” fits well with the story of Britons unilaterally controlling who gets fished in their waters. But fisheries management is a global negotiation.
Most of the fish caught in British waters are not eaten by the British, but go to France and Spain, where there is a great demand for the types of flat fish caught in British waters, and where people eat more fish per capita. Inhabitant.
Meanwhile, the British are partial to shrimp coming outside British waters.
“Fish is not always where consumers are,” Usherwood said. “The neat, simple narrative that we must be able to fish in our waters neglects what happens to the fish once you have caught it.”
Barrie Deas, executive director of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organizations, said the British fisheries sector had been “treated badly” by the EU
When Britain joined the European Economic Community – the forerunner of the EU – in the 1970s, “fishing was really sold out. It was considered consumption and it bound us into an asymmetrical and exploitative relationship for 40 years,” he said.
In Deas’ view, what Johnson’s dealers want is “nothing very extraordinary, 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.”
Martyn Boyers, CEO of Grimsby Fish Market on the north-east coast of England, said fishing was “low in economic terms but very high in emotional terms. So fishing has taken center stage, which is unique to us. Usually no one cares about fishing. ”
Still, Boyers said he wanted to highlight a subtle but very important point. The British fisheries sector not only wants to regain control of its waters, but freely import and export with Europe through its processors.
In the UK, Boyers said 80 per cent of British fish catches are exported and 80 per cent of what the British eat – mainly cod and haddock for fish and chips – are imported.
So free trade is essential.
Much of the fish at Grimsby Fish Market comes from Norway and Iceland via freight containers. It is not caught a few miles from shore, and in fact Grimsby does not have much of a local fishing fleet these days.
Referring to the negotiations, Boyers warned: “While emphasizing that Europeans are entering our waters, we are also concerned about quotas, trade and tariffs from Iceland and Norway.”
Means? “At the end of the day, we hope that common sense will prevail and will come up with a reasonable solution. But it is complex. ”
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 upwards. ”
McAuley reported from Paris.