Conservatives at sea fight over trawler “kidnapped” by the French | Jean Cracé


Iit’s the war. At least that would be the case if a handful of Conservative MPs got what they wanted. And who better to fight than the French? Our oldest enemy. The cause of the dispute was the British trawler held overnight by our beastly neighbors for allegedly fishing without authorization in French territorial waters, and now the subject of an urgent question in the Commons.

It was left to George Eustice, the Secretary of State in the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to attempt to negotiate a peace. Or failing that, a truce.

If the French step up their controls on seafood in Calais, then the food supply chain would be in serious trouble. He still wasn’t entirely clear what had happened, he insisted, but he was sure it was all just a misunderstanding.

The fishing boat was on a list but now, for some reason, had been taken off it. Maybe it was a license that had expired a few days ago and the skipper hadn’t renewed or something.

It was unthinkable that a British ship had done anything serious and that once it had had the opportunity to speak to the French authorities, the confusion would be resolved.

It was good enough for Luke Pollard, Defra’s shadow secretary. He had as little interest in waging war as Eustice did, although he pointed out that botched Brexit negotiations may have played a role in French actions. After all, there was very little that Lord Frost didn’t seem to have made worse.

Eustice was appalled at the idea. Frost had done everything right and if 2% of French trawlers had not renewed their licenses to fish in UK waters it was only because the UK was following the letter of the trade and cooperation agreement .

And the UK would never dream of not obeying international law when it comes to Brexit. In addition to threatening to abandon the Northern Ireland protocol. So to suggest that the seizure of the British ship was that the French were getting their retaliation early was absurd.

None of them were well received by the Tories on the back benches of Eustice. They believed – almost certainly rightly – that getting their retaliation early was exactly what the French were doing and wanted to turn up the tension by making a bad situation worse. We were right and we had to teach Johnny Frenchman a lesson.

Michael Maker, Bob Seely, Craig Williams, Andrew Bowie and Tim Loughton were all ready to make the French pay. Another hundred years war.

Andrew Bridgen went further. It was all the work of Tin-Pot Napoleon, Emmanuel Macron, who wanted to look tough with a delicate start to the election campaign. Thank goodness we don’t have our own supercharged narcissist who would play political games to win favor with his own audience.

No one has gone so far as to ask Eustice to send the Navy to free the trawler, but it may only be a matter of time.

What no one has mentioned is the state of the waters around the UK coast. Presumably there are not many takers for the sewage fishery at this time.

Moreover, this had been partially dealt with by Rebecca Pow, the youngest of the ministers and departmental resident, during the Defra questions earlier in the day. Pow wanted to show that she had the problem in hand. Rubber gloved needles, natch.

It was like that. When the government ordered its backbenchers to vote against an amendment banning water companies from dumping raw sewage into rivers and seas, it really was a training exercise to ensure that Conservative backbenchers were stupid enough to vote for any old shit. Literally. And she was happy to report that they were.

But now that the point had been proven, Defra wanted everyone to do the exact opposite so that there was no cholera outbreak during Cop26. The £ 650bn project to update the UK’s $ 3bn sewer system was now complete – almost done – so it would be nice if people, especially Conservative backbenchers who looked dumb, could remember their pledge to have a nicer, nicer policy and stop sending him abusive emails. Pow sat down, never to be seen again until the next departmental error.

Later that day it was just the proverbial shit hitting the fan. The day after the budget traditionally belongs to geeks, who have spent all night crunching all the fine print that the government would rather most people miss. And what the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the independent think tank on economics, had found was not entirely encouraging for Brand Rishi.

First, there was no help for the unemployed, and average incomes would face £ 3,000 in tax increases. Then there was the rising energy prices, inflation and weak growth that had to be addressed. Education spending was almost non-existent. The debt was still huge. Taxation at its highest level since the 1950s. Brexit is more damaging to the economy than the Covid.

And, contrary to the account of his budget speech, Sunak had had choices. He could have cut taxes, but he had followed Bertie Booster’s program.

All of this gave Ed Miliband a lot of material as he opened day two of the budget debate. He spoke with humor and sharpness. He takes himself a lot less seriously and seems to be having a lot more fun since he left the Labor leader.

Miliband was certainly too much for Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, whose budget ambivalence is matched only by most of his party. They all love to be loved and don’t know if the country will hate them in a year from now. It is too early to say that the budget has collapsed. But he’s certainly getting cowardly.

A farewell to calm from John Crace (Guardian Faber, £ 9.99). To support the Guardian and Observer, order your copy at Delivery charges may apply.

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