Nov 1, 2021 - World

U.K.'s fish wars with France are latest post-Brexit flashpoint

Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron

Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The U.K. and France are barreling toward a new crisis in their post-Brexit relationship, with each side digging in their heels in a fishing dispute that threatens to erupt into a full-on trade war.

Driving the news: The latest flashpoint comes courtesy of an industry that accounts for just 0.1% of the U.K.'s GDP, but has played an outsized role in Brexit Britain's emphasis on "sovereignty" and national pride.

  • France has accused the U.K. of declining to grant fishing licenses for French boats for political reasons, and seized a British trawler last week for alleged illegal fishing.
  • France is now threatening to bar British boats from ports, impose new border checks, and potentially raise energy prices for the British Channel Islands.
  • U.K. Foreign Minister Liz Truss has demanded that the French back down by Tuesday or else face legal action, and suggested French President Emmanuel Macron was trying to whip up nationalist support ahead of next year's elections.

The latest: Macron told reporters at COP26 in Glasgow on Monday that sanctions would be delayed as the two sides continue to negotiate past his original midnight deadline.

  • Johnson and Macron, whose strained relationship is no secret, met on the sidelines of the G20 on Sunday, where each leader claimed the onus was on the other to de-escalate.
  • The meeting came one day after a leaked letter from French Prime Minister Jean Castex called on the European Commission to show unity in the fishing dispute to demonstrate that "leaving the EU causes more damage than staying in."

The big picture: Johnson's government has made "Global Britain" — the idea that the U.K. can have a bigger impact on the world stage outside of the EU — the centerpiece of its foreign policy.

  • But this is the second time that a Brexit-related dispute has threatened to overshadow an international conference hosted by the U.K., after the "sausage wars" became a focal point of the G7 summit in Cornwall in June.
  • Northern Ireland, meanwhile, remains an intractable puzzle: Masked men hijacked a bus and set it on fire on Monday, reportedly in protest of a missed deadline for renegotiating the Brexit agreement that created a customs border between the territory and the rest of the U.K.

The bottom line: The Brexit debate is here to stay. The U.K. government's fiscal watchdog said last week that leaving the EU will ultimately be worse for the economy than COVID.

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