As the COP26 summit gets underway, a diplomatic Brexit row is escalating on the sidelines of the conference over fish. After France threatened to block British boats from its ports and increase checks on vessels over a disagreement on fishing licences, the UK warned it could retaliate if France goes through with it. Suggestions from the French over the weekend that a solution in the form of 'practical operational measures' had been found were quickly shot down by the UK side.
This morning, Liz Truss doubled down – using a morning media round to say the UK is prepared to take legal action against France. The Foreign Secretary said that France has 48 hours to back down over its position on UK fishing vessels – or face legal action.
'We are simply not going to roll over in the face of these threats,' she warned. The deadline set by the French is 2 November – Tuesday – for new checks to come in unless a solution is found.
So is this political posturing to play to a domestic audience? As we discuss on the latest episode of Coffee House Shots, as a general rule a French president playing hardball with the British – and a UK Prime Minister criticising the French – rarely backfires when it comes to each individual's home base. With a French election looming, Macron can be expected to do more not less of this; as recent events showed, there is a political advantage in trying to say that Brexit has been bad for the British.
It will be clear within 24 hours how much of this is just posturing this time around. But with tensions rising between the UK and EU on the Northern Ireland protocol – as well as the post-Brexit fishing agreement – even if a full-on clash is avoided this time around, there is a sense in government that it may just be a matter of time until things blow up. Given France takes over the EU presidency in January, the scene is being set for an escalation of tensions rather than a dialling down.