DANIEL HANNAN: Emmanuel Macron, the new Napoleon? No, he’s a Poundland Putin
A stable democracy doesn’t threaten to cut off its neighbour’s energy supplies. That is the sort of behaviour we associate with rogue states.
Putin’s Russia, for example, sometimes resorts to ‘gas diplomacy’ to browbeat Ukraine and other nearby states. An energy blockade is calculatedly bellicose — if not exactly an act of war, then certainly a declaration of hostile intent.
Incredibly, such a threat is now being made by the French government against Jersey, a British Crown dependency 14 miles from the Normandy coast, in a row over fishing licences.
In a dramatic development last night, as Boris Johnson pledged his ‘unwavering support’ for the island, it was announced that two Royal Navy patrol vessels will be sent to monitor this planned French blockade of Jersey’s main port.
A stable democracy doesn’t threaten to cut off its neighbour’s energy supplies. That is the sort of behaviour we associate with rogue states. Pictured: French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron stand in front of the tomb of French Emperor Napoleon during a ceremony marking the 200th anniversary of his death in Paris on May 5
Jersey gets most of its electricity from cables that run under that short stretch of water from France. A contract with the French firm EDF, which runs until 2027, provides for over 90 per cent of the island’s power — though Jersey Electricity insists that, if supplies are disrupted, it can generate whatever is needed.
Whether or not the French government has the legal authority to override Jersey’s contract with EDF, it certainly has the practical capacity: EDF is state-owned.
So when France’s Maritime Minister Annick Girardin threatens ‘retaliatory measures’ and says ‘France has many levers, notably on the supply of electricity by undersea cables to Jersey,’ we should take her seriously.
By ‘we’, I mean all of us in the United Kingdom, which is responsible for Jersey’s international relations. For this is a Brexit dispute — part of a wider EU campaign of intimidation since our decision to leave.
Jersey was never in the EU, and so was never fully part of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Yet it has now been dragged into this argument because of French resentment of the UK’s reassertion of control over its territorial waters.
The details of the dispute are technical, almost petty. The UK and the Channel Islands recognise the historic rights of boats that have always fished in their waters. A new system for verifying such claims was brought in when we left the CFP, but not all French skippers were able to comply with it.
Putin’s Russia, for example, sometimes resorts to ‘gas diplomacy’ to browbeat Ukraine and other nearby states. An energy blockade is calculatedly bellicose — if not exactly an act of war, then certainly a declaration of hostile intent
This is, in other words, a situation broadly comparable to the imposition of extra checks on British exporters, especially of shellfish, who sold to Continental markets. New procedures mean extra paperwork and, in some cases, lost sales.
How did our Government respond to that earlier dispute? It worked patiently to overcome the new bureaucracy and, in the meantime, it compensated the affected industries.
French ministers, by contrast, have issued public threats rather that engaging quietly with their opposite numbers.
Why such hysterical escalation? This is not the first time that the Channel Islands have been in our front line. Jersey was attacked in 1406 during the Hundred Years War, and again in 1779 and 1781 when France sought to take advantage of the revolution in America.
The island was also occupied by Germany from July 1940 until the surrender in May 1945 — a wretched experience that saw its children evacuated to mainland UK, and thus all but killed off the dialect of Norman French that had been widespread.
These days, France is supposed to be a Nato ally. Yet here it is threatening the sort of sanctions that might be more aptly deployed against an enemy, such as North Korea.
Part of the explanation might lie in Emmanuel Macron’s increasingly dictatorial behaviour. It is extraordinary to think that the French president was once hailed as a liberal centrist.
During the recent row over vaccines, for example, he made the kinds of statements that get anti-vaxxers banned from social media, claiming that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was ineffective, but simultaneously demanding legal action to get more of it.
His grandiose gestures — yesterday, he laid a wreath at the tomb of Napoleon, who destroyed the French republic with a putsch then plunged Europe into a series of disastrous wars — suggest autocracy rather than moderation.
His grandiose gestures — yesterday, he laid a wreath at the tomb of Napoleon, who destroyed the French republic with a putsch then plunged Europe into a series of disastrous wars — suggest autocracy rather than moderation. Pictured: Macron and his wife stand in front of the tomb of Napoleon during a ceremony on May 5
Perhaps he is worried about the rise of Marine Le Pen, who is catching up with him in the polls. Last week, the leader of the National Rally endorsed a letter written by 20 retired generals that hinted at a military intervention to prevent France sliding into chaos — a letter backed, according to the polls, by 58 per cent of French voters.
Perhaps Macron wants to burnish his nationalist credentials. Perhaps he calculates that bashing the Brits (in the eyes of most French voters, Jerseymen count as Brits) plays well with the home crowd. Or perhaps he sees himself as another Bonaparte, leading France to glory.
Whatever the explanation, he plainly likes to exaggerate his quarrels with the UK, not least over fisheries.
If it were solely a row about fishing vessels’ licences, we might be able to shrug it off. But this is the latest in a series of salvoes that have been fired at Britain since the Brexit vote.
Some of these have been micro-aggressions: sneering tweets from Eurocrats or outrageous claims by Charles Michel, President of the European Council, that the UK is prohibiting vaccine exports.
Others have been more serious. The UK, for example, has granted what is known as ‘equivalence’ to EU financial services companies, allowing them to operate here as if regulated in the UK. This is a normal courtesy among developed countries. But the EU refuses to reciprocate.
Then there was the vaccine blockade, in which Macron played such a low role. Embarrassed because they had been slow to place orders, and desperate to deflect blame, the European Commission announced a targeted embargo from which every neighbouring country was exempted except the UK.
Most seriously, there is the determination in Brussels to use the Northern Ireland Protocol to force Britain to follow its rules. Many of the EU’s constituent nations are our allies, but the Brussels institutions cannot be considered well-disposed.
Eurocrats see our economic success, not as an opportunity to sell more to their largest market, but as an affront. They view Britain, not as a partner, but as a renegade province.
And how should we respond?
One obvious step is to reduce our dependence on electricity generated in the EU. We mustn’t be in a position again where we can be blackmailed as Jersey is.
More widely, we need to rethink our geopolitical goals. Just as our trade is going global, so should our strategic assumptions. For decades, we rightly focused on the defence of Europe through Nato.
But can we continue to defend an antagonistic EU, with all the joint operations and intelligence-sharing implied?
Our truest friends, like our richest prospects, lie across the oceans. It is clearly time to raise our eyes.
Lord Hannan is a former Conservative MEP and serves on the UK Board of Trade.
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