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Brexit Diaries: so long, and thanks for all the fish?

December 21, 2020

Could it be that our trading relationship with the European Union, hitherto our largest source of exports and imports, is about to be sacrificed on the altar of sovereignty? And that the key exemplar of that sovereignty is access to our waters for the purpose of fishing, when fish account for 0.1% of our gross domestic product?

What a shame nobody asked the fish, who most likely don’t give a fig whether they end their days in the fishing nets of British, French or Spanish trawlers. They would most likely prefer that we left them alone. But that is entirely another consideration.

As we head for the next deadline, we are being told that the sticking point is our unfortunate fish, or more specifically the principle that Britain, as a sovereign nation, should have the right to control access to our waters. No matter that in normal times, every few minutes of every day, aircraft en-route from one foreign place to another cross our skies. Is that a potential violation of sovereignty, when denying the right to fly across Britain would undoubtedly result in other countries denying us the right to cross their airspace?

Why are fishing rights so important, so much a matter of critical concern to a section of the ruling party that has never put a net in the sea or encountered a fish anywhere other than on their dinner plates in comfortable London clubs or seafood restaurants in posh resorts?

And why, at this critical juncture of a raging pandemic, do the negotiating parties not simply park the issue of fishing, enact the remainder of what has been negotiated, and agree to revisit the issue within six months, with the understanding that failure to reach a solution by June would be liable to invalidate the rest of the agreement?

I understand the EU’s insistence that a deal should be all or nothing, but in the current circumstances some flexibility is surely called for. To put it bluntly, we British need to be saved from ourselves, or more specifically from the ideological pinheads on the right of the Conservative party that hold Boris Johnson in thrall.

The EU should take into consideration that if we go into no deal, the same faction will have no hesitation in blaming the other side’s intransigence, not ours. And they would be listened to by a large section of the population. The result would be a level of bitterness against our erstwhile allies that would blight relations and inhibit cooperation for some time to come. Which, of course, is what these people want.

Another option that has been widely touted, and which I support, is seeking an extension to the transition period until the end of June. The EU would have to agree to this, which is by no means certain. And the pin-headed ERG faction in the UK would scream like hell. But if an extension could be agreed upon, the Labour partly likely to support it and Boris Johnson could tell the ERG headbangers to go to hell.

Johnson himself has little to lose, because, thanks to his mishandling of the COVID crisis, his time in office will surely end soon. As for his party, it’s hard to see anything redeeming its reputation for competence in the short term.

Speaking for the country as a whole, for whose benefit the government supposedly acts, our chances of recovering from the pandemic would surely be enhanced without the disruption and economic damage of a no-deal Brexit, a foretaste of which is already upon us on the road to Dover.

Unlike the Brexit ultras, I’m not one for wheeling out yarns about plucky little Britain standing alone in World War 2. But I do think it’s worth remembering that in 1941, after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, we buried our ideological differences with the new combatant in order to defeat the common enemy. COVID is more pervasive and less easy to target than the forces of Nazism. But surely we can set aside our squabbles over fish for a while in order to confront, without distraction and as a united continent, a new enemy that threatens to take all of us down?

I dare say that if the fish could express an opinion, they would be devoutly hoping for our economic meltdown. At least, unlike us, they would stand a greater chance of living out their natural lifespans. What joy would it bring them, were they able feel it, to swim around without fear of ending up on a fishmonger’s slab?

With thanks to the late Douglas Adams, the creator of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, for the title of this post, and in the hope that we can all be spared the attentions of the Vogon destructor ship.

From → Politics, UK

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