Firstly, France detained a UK trawler which was fishing in French waters without a permit. A second vessel refused to answer the French hail, and fled. The action comes as Paris is threatening to block British boats from its ports and tighten checks on vessels if the lack of licences for small French vessels to fish in British waters is not resolved by Tuesday.
Secondly, France has been accused of wanting to “damage” Britain, after a letter by the French PM, Jean Castex, to the EU (about this situation and the NIP) was a) leaked and b) mistranslated and then spread all over social media by Alex Wickham, an editor of the magazine, Politico London Playbook . . .and also godfather to Johnson’s son. (So no bias likely to be there of course . . .not.)
Want to know what’s really going on?
This is what Clément Beaune, the French minister responsible for dealing with this issue says.
“Following the Brexit deal (TCA), access was due to be granted within days to EU boats. We have now been negotiating patiently and constructively for 10 months, replying to a series of detailed and additional requests from British authorities, boat by boat.
What is the current situation? We do not lack just a few licences, but more than 40% of French detailed requests. For the EU as a whole, around 90% of the expected licences have been granted, but all the missing ones are French.
After 10 months, when such a significant amount of licences, targeting one country, is missing, it’s not a technical issue, it’s a political choice and a breach of the TCA. A friend, ally and responsible partner should stand by its word and comply with legal commitments.
This is why France asks for action at the EU level, within the framework of the TCA, and stands ready to implement proportionate and reversible measures from November 2nd, as we have announced repeatedly since last April. These measures are fully in line with the TCA.
It’s positive to read that the UK cares about the TCA; France and the EU expect its full respect and implementation, regarding fishing rights, the Northern Ireland protocol and all other – agreed and ratified – matters.”
What was Beaune replying to?
He was replying to this series of tweets by David Frost, a series which continues the “the French are being nasty to us” narrative set up by Alex Wickham after the Castex letter was leaked:
“I would like to set out where things stand between the UK and the EU on fisheries and related issues, and why recent French rhetoric and threats, potentially leading to a breach by the EU of its Treaty obligations, are such an important matter for us.
We have been in talks with the EU Commission for weeks on fisheries licensing & have granted 98% of applications. We do so in good faith & are fully delivering on our TCA obligation – to license vessels which can prove they have actually fished previously in our 6-12nm limit.
That is why we are concerned and surprised by the comments seemingly made by @JeanCASTEX to @vonderLeyen that:
“it is indispensable to show European public opinion that … it causes more damage to leave the EU than to stay in.””
I hope this opinion is not held more widely across the EU. To see it expressed in this way is clearly very troubling and very problematic in the current context when we are trying to solve many highly sensitive issues, including on the Northern Ireland Protocol.
This is all the more so as the threats made by France this week to our fishing industry, to energy supplies, and to future cooperation, e.g. through the Horizon research programme, unfortunately form part of a pattern that has persisted for much of this year.
As I set out yesterday to @MarosSefcovic, these threats, if implemented on 2 November, would put the EU in breach of its obligations under our trade agreement. So we are actively considering launching dispute settlement proceedings as set out in Article 738 of the TCA.
For our part we will continue to implement our obligations under the TCA. We will continue to talk constructively to try to resolve all the differences between us, and we urge the EU and France to step back from rhetoric and actions that make this more difficult. /ENDS”
And where did the lie that “the French want to cause damage to us come from – the lie that Frost repeats and Beaune refutes? From Alex Wickham, Politico’s editor, who “broke” the news story and said:
“The key line in the letter is where Castex explicitly admits the fishing row is about Brexit. He calls on the EU to cause “damage” to Britain as a warning to other nations who might consider leaving in future. UK will seize on this as evidence of bad faith from France.”
The problem is, that Castex doesn’t call on the EU to “damage” the UK, which is what Alex Wickham translates it as, and which all mainstream media has repeated.
If you type the word “dommages” into Google Translate, sure, you’ll get “damages”. But “damage” in the sense Alex Wickham is using it would be “dégât.” And the letter doesn’t call for the EU to damage the UK, it calls for the EU to hold the UK to the terms of the agreement it signed up to.
What the Castex letter actually says in the disputed paragraph is “il est indispensible de montrer clairement aux opinions publiques européenes que le respect des engagements souscrits n’est pas négociable et qu’il y à davantage de dommages a quitter l’Union qu’à y demeurer.”
A good translation of this is: “it is essential to clearly show to European public opinion that respecting commitments entered into is not negotiable and that there is more cost to leaving the Union than to remaining there.”
The French term “dommages” here does not mean “damage” but is from French legal terminology e.g. “dommages et intérêts” where “dommages”= cost.
The entire letter from Castex asks the EU to ensure that the UK holds up its end of the bargain. That’s it. Don’t be taken in by the lies you’re seeing.
There are costs to leaving the EU. There were always going to be, there are now, and there will be more in the future. The problem is that Johnson and his coterie want the benefits of the EU without any of the costs of staying in it. And now they are out of it, and they have discovered that not only are there no benefits to be had if you’re not paying for them, they have also found out that leaving is not just a matter of not getting any benefits because you are not paying your membership dues, but that not being in the EU comes with a cost.
And the part of the letter Johnson – and his crony Wickham – carefully don’t quote is where Castex says:
“le secteur européen de la pêche dans son ensemble a consenti des efforts importants en raison de Brexit qui se traduit par un moindre accès aux eaux et aux ressources brittaniques; il est d’autant plus crucial que les termes de l’accord soient respectés.”
“The European fishing sector as a whole has made significant efforts because of Brexit, which result in less access to Britain’s waters and resources; it is all the more crucial that the terms of the agreement are respected. “
They’re not threatening to harm us. They are trying to protect their own: they have lost access to Britain’s waters, but what access they have under the terms of the agreement, they believe they should be able to use. Johnson has, as Frost says, put through a lot of the EU’s fishing permits. But all the ones that he hasn’t put through are French.
Here’s a question for you. Why do you think Johnson is doing this, with the French, specifically? I can think of several reasons myself.
The first and most cogent is that he thinks the British, having had historical arguments with our cousins across the water, will readily accept the “France is the enemy” story line, a story line he can use to whip up enthusiasm for his premiership with and that he can use to distract us from the hash he has made of governing.
The second is that a dispute with the French can be used to divert us from the fact that outside the SM and CU, our supply chains are creaking and failing: how convenient it would be if he could persuade French fishermen to blockade the ports so our goods can’t get here. It’s a perfect excuse for empty shelves.
And the third? I wonder if it’s just because the French refused citizenship to his father. It would be unbelievably mean and low-minded. Seems petty, doesn’t it? But then this is Johnson.
Anyway, don’t expect this situation to resolve soon, as Wickham and Frost continue to double down on lies that can be exposed by even a halfway competent French translator, and Johnson rattles his little sabre. But don’t allow yourself to be distracted by the débâcle either.
There are plenty of rumours that the government is going to invoke Article 16, and ditch the entire Northern Ireland Protocol. If so, this is just a teaser for the main event.