Brexit fishing row latest: France and UK remain at loggerheads as both ‘worried about PR’

Britain is violating Brexit fishing agreements says spokesperson

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The French presidential election enters its final stage on Sunday as voters choose between the centrist incumbent Emmanuel Macron and his far-right challenger, Marine Le Pen. The runoff is a repeat of the 2017 election when Mr Macron decimated his rival, but this time the race is much tighter, as Ms Le Pen has narrowed Mr Macron’s lead in the polls. Since winning his first term in office five years ago, Mr Macron’s strong presence in the EU has put him on a collision course with Britain.

Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the UK and France’s bitter spat over post-Brexit fishing rights.

The row over licences for small fishermen could continue after the French election, according to Michael Bruter, professor of political science and European politics at the London School of Economics.

The political scientist, who is director of the Electoral Psychology Observatory, said fishing was one of several Brexit-related issues that have defined Mr Macron’s dealings with the UK.

Speaking to Express.co.uk, the expert claimed that the issue was symbolic for both the UK and France.

He said: “I think that the fishing crisis is a bit more of a symbolic division between France and the UK because neither of them really wants to be seen as letting down the small fishermen.”

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He added: “I think that in both cases, they worry about the PR of it.

“The fact that it would look like either the UK or the French would be letting down the small guys.”

Under the Brexit deal agreed between the UK and EU, the share of British fishing quotas in its waters increased.

Meanwhile, French vessels were allowed to continue fishing in the UK’s territorial waters in areas where they had already done so from 2017 to the end of 2020.

However, tensions between London and Paris reached boiling point in October when the UK and Jersey denied licences to dozens of French boats.

In protest at the UK not granting licences, French fishermen blocked French ports and the Channel Tunnel.

Two Royal Navy vessels were also dispatched to Jersey in May last year to deal with French fishermen protesting the island’s restrictions on them.

Mr Macron’s administration also threatened to ask the EU to take legal action over the issuing of licences.

During a visit to Brittany earlier this month, the French leader claimed his government had upheld its side of the bargain and that most French vessels had been able to keep their licences.

Prof Bruter claimed that for the UK and France, the image of protecting small fishermen was perhaps more significant than what their respective industries contribute economically.

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He said: “Fishing is a bit of a symbolic and regional question in some ways.

“It is symbolic because it is true in France and in the UK we are two countries in which people care about agriculture and fisheries.

“In a way, which is much more significant than what the economic shares of the sectors represent in real life.

“Because in a way it represents our vision of what the countries are. We imagine a country of farmers and we imagine a country of fishermen.

“Even though in practice, in France and the UK, the majority of the fishing is done by pretty large companies.”

He added: “It is not done by old guys with pipes and small boats, it is by big trawlers and multinational companies, big corporations.

“The same with agriculture – most of the farming does not resemble in any way what we see in our minds, the small farmers of the Nineteenth Century.”

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