The painfully slow and frustrating attempts to reach some kind of trade deal between the EU and UK is set to stagger on a little longer.
We are told that only around four sticking points remain, and that agreement has been reached for around 98 per cent of the sub-headings that would form an acceptable deal.
That fishing rights could be the rock on which the deal stumbles is both shocking and illogical. The value of the industry to the UK is tiny in comparison with other sectors. It contributes around 750 million pounds to the economy – that’s less than 0.1 per cent.
So why is it causing so much friction? It’s all about that word sovereignty. The British Government believes that conceding total control of their territorial waters would send a sign of weakness to Brussels. It would also cause fury among the nationalistic right-wing fringe of the tory party.
Ultimately there is only one outcome that could secure a deal. That is for the UK to grant EU vessels access to British waters, though on a slightly lesser scale, ensuring that both sides save face.
Fishing is an emotive business. For Britain, as, an Island nation, it has always played an important role, and has provided livelihoods for many coastal communities. It’s a tough, uncompromising industry that still wields political power. Any perceived surrender by the UK to EU pressure would be viewed with angst and despair at a level massively disproportionate to the sector’s monetary significance.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Channel the old foe, France, is the country shouting the loudest about giving ground to the British. Mr Macron knows that his countrymen are at least as jingoistic and passionate about the fishing industry as their counterparts in the UK. He also knows that if he is perceived to be backing down to British pressure, his chances of re-election will diminish accordingly.
It’s a difficult conundrum for EU and British negotiators – not helped by Boris Johnson’s pledge to use Royal Navy gunboats to Police UK waters to keep out Johnny foreigner. Maybe someone should politely remind him that during the Cod wars with Iceland Britain was equally protective of its dubious rights to plunder Icelandic waters, backed by naval muscle. That didn’t end well and employing a military solution in the English Channel to keep out the French, Dutch and Spanish, could end up with more than dented pride.
So, where does that leave us in the Isle of Man? Exactly where we’ve been for the last four years really. Waiting.
Thankfully we have our own territorial waters in respect of fishing, which will continue whatever happens elsewhere. Our issue is access to markets, and within the local fishing industry there seems to be a high level of confidence that we will be able to find ready customers for our treasured Scallops and Queenies, whatever the EU and the UK decide.
Elsewhere Manx businesses across numerous sectors are poised to react. It’s just a matter of which button they press – the one that launches a strategy based on a new deal with the EU, or one that closes the door and snuffs out the last remaining chink of free market light.
Sadly it’s all down to face saving between two nations who have never quite managed to put to bed centuries of rivalry and mis-trust. Jingoism is alive and well both sides of the English Channel.