Vive Little Napoleon Macron’s Brexit sulk! The French President is clearly keen to force a confrontation with Britain at every opportunity, writes NABILA RAMDANI
Diplomacy was abruptly scuttled when the French decided to arrest British seamen in the escalating war over fishing rights.
Depriving anybody of their freedom is a giant step in any dispute, but for a country whose motto is ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’ it can rightly be viewed as outrageous.
The exact circumstances around the seizure of the scallop trawler Cornelis Gert Jan in Le Havre on Wednesday are being analysed by lawyers, but there is no doubt that sabre-rattling was the primary motivation.
The French are furious that some of their boats are currently being denied fishing rights in UK waters following the Brexit settlement, and so have started ferocious retaliatory action.
While claiming they were dealing with the matter courteously through the European Commission – as would be appropriate for an EU founding-father nation – the French instead simply sent in their security services.
‘It’s not war, but it is a fight,’ is how Annick Girardin, the fiery maritime minister in Paris put it.
Mr Macron, of course, despises Brexit and he is clearly keen to force a confrontation with Britain over it at every opportunity, writes NABILA RAMDANI
‘We are going to ask the European Commission to tell the United Kingdom that it is not respecting its agreement and therefore retaliatory measures can be put in place,’ she added.
Hard-Left Miss Girardin made it clear that arresting the Cornelis Gert Jan’s skipper, and threatening him with criminal charges, was just one of numerous options available.
They range from blocking all British fishing vessels from offloading their catches on French shores, and imposing stultifying red-tape barriers on other British products, to cutting off power to Jersey and Guernsey.
Threatening a nation’s power supply is the sort of behaviour we have come to expect of rogue states like Russia, not of an ally and neighbour.
Yet it was with undisguised glee that Miss Girardin threatened to do just this in May.
There was a time when the term gunboat diplomacy – use of naval power ultimatums to resolve disputes – earned Britain the title Perfidious Albion. It was a pejorative name implying treachery and double-dealing. Now, however, it may be more appropriate to speak of Perfidious France as ministers such as Miss Girardin – who has confessed to having a ‘pirate’s soul’ – up the ante without warning.
Clement Beaune, France’s ferociously anti-Brexit Europe minister, is being similarly bellicose. He wants a ‘zero tolerance’ policy enforced towards the British as the French push for more fishing licences. The circumstances behind the dispute are technical. The UK and the Channel Islands recognise the historic rights of boats that have always fished in their waters.
New technology for verifying such claims was brought in when the UK left the Common Fisheries Policy, but not all French boats want to go to the trouble and expense of complying.
British negotiators are understandably insisting they install the technology. And yet it was Mr Beaune, apparently without irony, who declared: ‘We cannot be in a climate of trust with a neighbour who does not abide by the rules.’ Mr Beaune is extremely close to President Emmanuel Macron, a head of state used to speaking through his lieutenants.
The French are furious that some of their boats are currently being denied fishing rights in UK waters following the Brexit settlement, and so have started ferocious retaliatory action, writes NABILA RAMDANI
Mr Macron, of course, despises Brexit and he is clearly keen to force a confrontation with Britain over it at every opportunity.
He undermined the Oxford Covid jab, for instance, and jeopardised its rollout in Europe. He has also been mischief-making over the highly sensitive issue of the Northern Ireland protocol.
Meanwhile, there is constant friction about the number of immigrants crossing to England on small boats from the coast of France.
Mr Macron is also still fuming after losing out to Britain and the US when Australia cancelled a £60billion contract to buy French submarines.
Above all, though, he is in the throes of an election campaign. Winning a second term is his priority and he knows that his main rivals are likely to be Marine Le Pen, of the far-Right National Rally, and the equally xenophobic TV pundit Eric Zemmour.
Ultra-nationalistic voters expect to see their politicians standing up for their interests, and Mr Macron wants to play to the gallery by outperforming both Le Pen and Zemmour.
Seaborne battles with the British are an obvious way of doing this for the new Napoleon.
But there will be a reckoning. If, for the sake of another five years of power, he sacrifices any pretence of being a diplomatically-minded statesman, then he will be in serious trouble.
Mr Macron needs to jettison his pugilism, start negotiating with Britain in a manner that is civilised and constructive, and finally respect the post-Brexit order.