Brexit Weekly: 5 Things

Brexit: towards a second referendum?

At an EU Council summit in Salzburg, Austria, EU leaders openly called for the UK to organise another Brexit referendum, as bilateral talks over future relations with Britain entered a critical phase with less than seven months until the country is due to leave the bloc.

The prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Andrej Babiš, and of Malta, Joseph Muscat, both declared that British citizens should be able to have a final say on the outcome of the EU-UK negotiations once they are complete and choose among the different options available.

Mr Muscat stressed that this position was ‘almost unanimously’ shared by EU27’s leaders while Mr Babiš insisted that people in the UK could have changed their views since the Brexit referendum, echoing earlier suggestions from Mel Stride, a Treasury minister, who admitted that a new referendum was a possibility.

However, those comments were unequivocally rejected by UK Prime Minister Theresa May, who pointed out that there would be no delay in the UK’s withdrawal from the EU in March 2019 and that no new vote would take place, adding that the British government would ‘never’ accept a second Brexit referendum.

Every cloud has a silver lining

Speaking on Euronews’ Raw Politics, the EU Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, acknowledged Theresa May’s Chequers plan was ‘positive in a number of areas’, including internal and external security cooperation.

The leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) – who has long advocated for a federal Europe – also praised the UK Government’s decision to deliver a practical Brexit, using an Association Agreement to ensure the new settlement is sustainable for both the citizens of the UK and the EU and confirmed that this corresponds to the position of the European Parliament.

While conceding that all is not yet rosy, with persistent disagreements over the Irish border issue and the economic partnership and trade policy as detailed in the Government’s Brexit White Paper, Mr Verhofstadt concluded, in a spirit of optimism, that the UK withdrawal has had the positive effect of bringing to light the ‘benefits’ of EU membership.

The truth of lie

At a press conference held at the end of the Salzburg summit, French President Emmanuel Macron branded prominent Brexiters who promised that exiting the EU would ‘bring a lot of money home’ as ‘liars’, without – however – naming anyone. In a further blow to Theresa May’s Chequers plan, Mr Macron added that ‘moment of truth’ in Brexit negotiations is approaching and that he would not be ready to accept ‘blind deal’ with the UK.

Macron’s public attack prompted Brexiteers to react with outrage and fury, with former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith advising him to ‘butt out’ of British politics. Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the Conservative Party’s Pro-Brexit European Research Group, accused the French President of attempting to distract the attention of the French electorate from his domestic troubles, as the French Senate continued investigations in to Macron’s former bodyguard over an assault scandal.

Macron is also being plagued by low polling numbers, whilst Gerard Collomb, France’s interior minister and Macron ally, has announced his intention to resign next year in order to stand for election as Mayor of Lyon.

Scallop wars: peace deal struck

French and British fishermen have come to an agreement to end the long-lasting dispute between them over access to fishing grounds and scallop fishing rights in the English Channel.

The dispute escalated over the summer, as vessels from both sides clashed dramatically, with fishermen throwing stones, smoke bombs and other projectiles at each other. The tensions were prompted by accusations from the French fishing industry that British boats would deplete scallop stocks off France’s coast, in a context where French fishermen are prevented by national law from fishing in the area between May and October to conserve stocks.

After several unsuccessful attempts to bring what has been termed ‘the scallop wars’ to a halt, the new deal reached by the governments of the UK and France provides that UK vessels of less than 15 metres long will continue to be allowed to capture scallops from the waters of Normandy, while larger boats will have to withdraw for the next six weeks to coincide with the end of the ban period provided for under French rules.

In return, the French government agreed to compensate British fishermen, by transferring fishing rights for scallops elsewhere, in areas such as the Irish Sea.

Scallop wars: the more you sweat in peace the more you bleed in war

Just a few days after the deal was struck, a new series of incidents occurred in the English Channel, as crab pots were reported by the BBC to be deliberately sabotaged by French trawlers, sparking fears that the ‘scallop wars’ might now evolve towards ‘crab wars’.

Surprisingly enough, the incidents this time occurred not in the Bay of Seine, north of Normandy – as was the case at the start of the scallop row in August this year – but within the territorial waters of England, off the Cornwall coast.

The chief executive of the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation said that the skirmish could be Brexit-related, as it is expected that Britain will regain control of its own national fishing grounds and will possibly restrict automatic access to its territorial waters to EU vessels. A further possible consequence of Brexit is that French boats may no longer be notified of the position of British gears, including crab pots.

The most recent incidents are currently being discussed between the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation and French fishermen who met in Plymouth and called on competent authorities to get involved and ease the tensions once and for all.

Could this be the war to end all wars?