Relations with France have been in the spotlight again recently. France arrested a Scottish fishing trawler. They have touted a ‘go-slow’ at the border. They have threatened to cut off electricity to the small island of Jersey. It is my firm view that threats to energy, food, water or other life essentials have no place in trade disputes. The French shouldn’t behave like this.
The world community is quick to condemn Russia or the Middle East when they have had concerns that gas or oil supplies are being deployed, or withheld, for political reasons. It is extraordinary that France’s threats are treated as some sort of petulant gallic bluff and therefore acceptable. I’m sure it doesn’t feel like that to the people of Jersey. It didn’t feel like that in Dover last year when France closed the border unilaterally.
Last Christmas’s unilateral action by the French saw our border closed, Dover and the surrounding area in gridlock, people stuck in days of queues. Locally, some older people could not get their ‘meals on wheels’ dinners, shops began to run short of goods, and ambulances struggled to get to those who needed to go to hospital. Thank goodness for the swift action of the army who gave us back our Christmas Day.
Last year the French simply ignored the rebukes of European Commissioners and everyone else. They just did what they wanted, and there was no comeback on them. This year they have written to the EU saying that the UK should be ‘punished’ for daring to leave the European Union.
This is not the action of a petulant small state punching above its weight and shouting for attention. France is, like the UK, one of the world’s leading G7 nations. It is a fellow founding NATO country, with us and the Americans. It is, like the UK, a longstanding nation state with a clear identity, character and approach.
Sharp-eyed observers will have noticed that the French have also been having angry spats with Australia and the USA . Tensions are also high within the EU bloc itself and its future uncertain.
President Macron has himself touted ‘Frexit’ in recent times. Poland is in a bitter dispute over its assertions of sovereign nation rights, with the EU reportedly withholding urgent Covid funds from it. Poland, Hungary and others muttering about possibly leaving.
Internal border controls are being reintroduced in six major European countries. We certainly don’t need reminding about the need for stronger European border controls here, as the number of migrants entering the UK illegally via France has now topped a staggering 20,000.
Some say the behaviour of the French has all the hallmarks of politics linked to next year’s presidential elections. Perhaps that is the case, time will tell. In the meantime, we must continue to negotiate with the best of intentions, but remain vigilant and prepared at our borders.