The reaction of the French commentariat to the Brexit partnership agreement will be largely one of extreme irritation that the traditional Christmas Eve dinner was so crudely interrupted.
Any initial response to the deal has been rather abbreviated. Nobody has read the fine print. The usual pundits are out of town. Brexit has never been a subject central to French political discourse and since Covid it has shrunk further as a preoccupation of the country.
The news channels with their skeleton holiday crews have been unable to mount a full-blown orgy of live remotes from Europe’s capitals and have resorted to more marginal regional figures, focusing on the fishing ports. Conspicuously absent in these remotes is much passion. It doesn’t look like a cod war is imminent. Brexit ends not with a bang, but a whimper.
If there is an impression that everyone is fed up with Brexit, it would not be surprising.
With the fishing deal, Emmanuel Macron seems to have avoided simultaneous revolts in Bologne, Saint-Malo and points between. French commercial interests in the UK have been protected. And now the residual European Union can go about deepening itself without the British obstructing everything.
The line taken by the Elysée is that the UK made ‘huge concessions’ to get the deal, particularly on fish. This seems pro forma. Perhaps the fish are more important to the French than the British. UK fisherpeople were betrayed on the way into the EEC, and perhaps again on the way out of the EU. There aren’t very many of them.
Emmanuel Macron today emerged from his self-isolation after a brief bout with what seems to have been a not especially serious case of Covid-19. Beyond an anodyne tweet hailing the agreement as a victory for European solidarity, he’s so far held fire. He will be pleased that the Brexit stand-off is ending with the Franco-British defence relationship and the back channel with Boris intact.
This evening, Brexit had already fallen to third in the running order on French news, behind the resurrection of Macron and Covid vaccines. I doubt the Brexit deal will be a major talking point as France engages in this evening’s grande bouffe.