ROME – Boris Johnson has promised to “carry out Brexit”. However, it is becoming clear that this will never be done – at least not if the British and French have anything to do with it.
The big dust between London and Paris over fish was the noisy backdrop of the G20 in Rome over the weekend, just as the UK prime minister hopes to resonate at the COP26 climate summit hosted by the British.
It’s not the first time we’ve been here – at the G7 in June they were sausages.
The UK’s first major breakthrough into world diplomacy since Brexit has become an extended meditation on the Northern Ireland Protocol, a mechanism that keeps the island of Ireland in the EU’s trade domain to avoid a hard border there.
In Cornwall, on the English coast, Johnson and US President Joe Biden managed to move from an awkward introduction to the June summit – only Johnson received a twitch in his ear from a series of EU leaders over key preparations for Brexit.
He was then considered by French President Emmanuel Macron. At the Johnson bilateral meeting he was supposed to try to explain his misfortune with protocol by asking Macron what he would do if the sausages from Toulouse could not be moved to Paris.
The French president allegedly replied that this analogy did not work because Paris and Toulouse were both part of the same country – comments were wrong that Northern Ireland was not part of the United Kingdom London was quickly seized »offensively”While Élysée insisted that Macron meant that they were not in the same“ single geographical area ”.
While Johnson trumpeted the G7 high-level agreement on sending vaccines to the developing world and making progress on climate talks, the efforts of diplomats and aides focused on relieving the conflict.
Well, we’re there again
In Rome, this weekend, the saga was repeated almost word for word as meetings on coronavirus, climate change and global taxation took place amid a full-blown dispute over fishing rights after Brexit.
Although the UK did not host this time, the Prime Minister and officials still had a clear self-interest in stressing to the G20 countries the importance of agreeing on joint measures to reduce emissions and phase out coal ahead of the COP26 meeting in Scotland.
Nevertheless, Brexit prevailed before the meeting, with France threatening retaliation, which could begin on Tuesday after French boats were denied permits to fish after Brexit.
The already embarrassing situation has worsened since French Prime Minister Jean Castex appeared in writing to the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, which warns that the UK ‘s non – participation in French requirements for its fishing licenses would be detrimental to the EU as a whole.
Speaking at a G20 press conference, Johnson said he was “confused when he read a letter from the French prime minister explicitly demanding that the UK be punished for leaving the EU”.
Despite heated rhetoric, hopes for a truce briefly rose on Sunday as Johnson and Macron met on the sidelines. An Elysée adviser said both sides agreed to “stabilize the situation”, but Downing Street immediately rejected this version of events.
A spokesman for the prime minister said: “The French will decide whether they want to move away from the threats they have made in recent days regarding the breach of the Brexit agreement.”
Macron insisted on Sunday that Britain must give in to the fishing dispute, otherwise France will launch trade retaliation this week. “What we have decided with Prime Minister Johnson is that we will propose a method of what we can give in a very short time in terms of mutual evidence of goodwill and then in a few weeks how we can move forward. I call this de-escalation,” Macron told reporters. at the G20 summit, adding that he “hopes there will be a positive response on Monday”.
“Now the ball is on their court. If the British do not move, the measures announced for November 2 will obviously have to be implemented because they will reject the offer.”
The British government insists that Brexit has not overshadowed its big moment on the world stage. Asked by POLITICO if the G7 had a déjà vu, Johnson said: “This time it’s fish and not sausages … but they’re actually bigger fish to fry, everyone knows that.”
He claimed that he was “not at all” worried that the talks would derail because of Brexit, and “the question is how much more we can move forward [on climate change]. ” Wanting to return to his favorite topic at the conclusion of the G20, Johnson stepped up climate warnings and told reporters, “If Glasgow fails, the whole thing fails.”
While relations are at a low level, there is no consensus on motivations for each party. Macron are ahead of the election and fishermen are clearly in mind.
Macron “must maintain the reputation of one of the strongest advocates of Brexit,” the British diplomat said, while Johnson needs no encouragement to wave with Union Jack.
Johnson seems to have decided that it is worth aggressively persevering in any conflict because of the enduring form of Brexit. An official familiar with strategy no. 10, insisted that the United Kingdom does not play games, and stressed that Northern Ireland is a much more urgent priority.
The latest salvo in the fishing war has at least highlighted how far the British and French have come, with the future of the resolution on Northern Ireland still very much on the line. And after the G20, it may be a while before Macron and Johnson are left alone in the room again.
David M. Herszenhorn and Emilio Casalicchio contributed to the reporting.
This article was updated with further details on Emmanuel Macron’s comments on Sunday.