The fraught historical past of Anglo-French relations over the previous few centuries — and of the UK’s troublesome entry and equally troublesome exit from the EU prior to now few a long time — means that the ultimate days of Brexit negotiations had been all the time going to finish in a stand-off between Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron.
So it turned out this week, when British officers singled out France and accused Mr Macron, France’s president, of undermining the probabilities of a last-minute settlement on the longer term buying and selling relationship between the UK and the EU as soon as the post-Brexit transition interval ends on December 31.
Each the British and the French stated Paris was refusing to yield on its calls for for post-Brexit fishing rights in British waters. France additionally wished strict controls to make sure an financial “degree taking part in discipline” the place the UK wouldn’t be capable of assist its firms undercut European rivals with lighter rules on state assist, the atmosphere and labour.
For France and its supporters, significantly the fishing nations of Netherlands, Denmark and Belgium, such concessions are the worth the UK should pay for continued tariff-free entry to the EU’s large single market after January 1.
Ever since Charles de Gaulle’s “Non!” denied the UK entry to the Frequent Market within the 1960s, France — Britain’s shut buying and selling accomplice, ally and onetime enemy — has taken the lead in continental Europe’s dealing with of its awkward island neighbour.
Mr Macron relishes the position as a lot as any of his predecessors within the Elysée Palace. Up to now few days, he has deployed his ministers throughout the nation to hammer residence the message.
Jean Castex, prime minister, appeared within the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer on Thursday to reassure French fishermen who’ve lengthy harvested British waters throughout the Channel.
“We hope to have a cope with the absolute best circumstances, however not at any worth,” he stated. “And positively not if fishing is sacrificed as one thing that may be negotiated away.”
Clément Beaune, France’s Europe minister and a confidant of Mr Macron, confirmed on Friday morning that Paris would veto any unsatisfactory accord reached by Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, and David Frost, his UK counterpart. “We owe it to the French, we owe it to our fishermen and different financial sectors,” he advised Europe 1 radio.
That doesn’t imply a deal gained’t be reached within the subsequent few days. For home political causes, it’s handy for each Mr Johnson and Mr Macron to be seen to be standing agency in opposition to the importunate calls for of the opposite facet. “There’s a sure factor of theatre to the French behaviour,” stated Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, a think-tank. “They play Mr Nasty and [Germany’s Angela] Merkel performs Mrs Good.”
The demand for continued EU fishing entry to British waters, regardless of the tiny contribution the sector makes to the British and EU economies, is a very delicate subject on which either side is sure to need to make concessions to succeed in a deal — the French as a result of no deal would imply no fish in any respect and the British as a result of a lot of the fish caught in its waters is in any case exported to Europe and processed in Boulogne.
There’s a sure factor of theatre to the French behaviour. They play Mr Nasty and [Germany’s Angela] Merkel performs Mrs Good
“On either side, they haven’t ready public opinion for a compromise on fish,” says Elvire Fabry, senior analysis fellow on the Jacques Delors Institute.
“However the large subject will not be there — it’s in regards to the degree taking part in discipline,” Ms Fabry stated. For the reason that early 1990s, when Jacques Calvet of carmaker PSA famously in contrast the UK to a “Japanese plane provider off the coast of Europe” due to Japanese funding within the British motor trade, France has fretted about doubtlessly “unfair” competitors from exporters throughout the Channel not taking part in by EU guidelines.
In contrast to the French-led calls for for fishing rights, France’s considerations in regards to the “degree taking part in discipline” and the necessity to uphold the integrity of the EU single market are broadly shared among the many union’s 27 remaining members. “Possibly Macron is extra vocal,” stated Ms Fabry, “however he can do it as a result of he’s backed by Germany and plenty of others.”
If the EU and the UK do lastly attain settlement on commerce, it is going to be partly as a result of each France and the UK worth bilateral defence and safety ties that transcend the vexed matter of the UK’s EU membership and its aftermath: each are nuclear powers and everlasting members of the UN Safety Council and they’re the 2 most formidable army powers in western Europe.
Failure to do a deal, however, would bode in poor health for the longer term. “If there’s a very acrimonious no-deal Brexit and everybody throws buns at one another, that’s not an excellent local weather for bilateral defence and safety co-operation,” stated Mr Grant.
Both manner, the Channel will stay 21 miles throughout at its narrowest level and the British Isles can’t go away Europe even when the UK has rejected the EU.
As Mr Macron advised Mr Johnson within the Elysée Palace courtyard after a earlier spherical of talks final 12 months, he revered the British choice even when he regretted Brexit. “However I do know in any case that the way forward for the UK as regards our historical past and our values can solely be present in Europe, and that our geography is cussed on this regard.”