The fraught historical past of Anglo-French relations over the previous few centuries — and of the UK’s tough entry and equally tough exit from the EU previously few a long time — means that the ultimate days of Brexit negotiations had been at all times 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 needed strict controls to make sure an financial “degree enjoying area” the place the UK wouldn’t be capable to assist its corporations undercut European rivals with lighter rules on state assist, the surroundings and labour.
For France and its supporters, significantly the fishing nations of Netherlands, Denmark and Belgium, such concessions are the value the UK should pay for continued tariff-free entry to the EU’s enormous single market after January 1.
Ever since Charles de Gaulle’s “Non!” denied the UK entry to the Frequent Market within the Sixties, France — Britain’s shut buying and selling companion, 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. Prior to now few days, he has deployed his ministers throughout the nation to hammer house 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 very best circumstances, however not at any value,” 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 received’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 towards the importunate calls for of the opposite aspect. “There’s a sure ingredient 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 concern on which all sides is certain to should 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.
“On each 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 huge concern is just not there — it’s in regards to the degree enjoying area,” Ms Fabry stated. For the reason that early Nineteen Nineties, 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 business, France has fretted about doubtlessly “unfair” competitors from exporters throughout the Channel not enjoying by EU guidelines.
Not like the French-led calls for for fishing rights, France’s considerations in regards to the “degree enjoying area” 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 lots of others.”
If the EU and the UK do lastly attain settlement on commerce, it will likely 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 navy powers in western Europe.
Failure to do a deal, alternatively, would bode unwell 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 method, the Channel will stay 21 miles throughout at its narrowest level and the British Isles can not depart 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 yr, he revered the British determination 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.”