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French brawlers get a shot across the bow

Sebastien Salom-Gomis/AFP/Getty Images

“Britain has often gone to war to defend great principles,” says Marc Roche in Le Point. The Falklands, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya… and now, perhaps, Jersey. That’s right – as part of a new “tug of war” between France and Britain over fishing rights, Boris Johnson this week dispatched two gunboats to the British Crown Dependency to “thwart the threats of Paris”. HMS Tamar and HMS Severn didn’t do much: they sat off the island’s coast as 60 or 70 French fishing boats sailed into St Helier harbour, hung around protesting for a few hours, then headed home. But it’s the thought that counts. Maybe “the old empire is not as decayed” as we all assumed.

It sure felt like war reporting, says the Telegraph’s Paris correspondent, Henry Samuel, who was on one of the French fishing vessels. At one point my hosts muttered about making me walk the plank. Red flares raged. A little French boat rammed its Jersey rival. The “armada” was pelted with bottles and a “lone member of the Jersey Militia re-enactment group” shot a blank round from a musket.

It was the French who started this “barney”, says Alex Wickham in Politico. Their fishermen are “furious” that their access to British waters around Jersey has been limited because of the Brexit deal, and claim unnecessary new red tape has been added to the licence process. David Sellam, head of the joint Normandy-Brittany sea authority, declared that he was “ready for war” and could “bring Jersey to its knees if necessary”. Incredibly, “that language was backed up by the actual French government” when maritime minister Annick Girardin threatened to cut off the island’s electricity supplies, 90% of which come from France via undersea cables. As one Whitehall source quipped: “At least when the Germans invaded in World War Two, they kept the lights on.”

Joking aside, a “stable democracy doesn’t threaten to cut off its neighbour’s energy supplies”, says Daniel Hannan in the Daily Mail. “That is the sort of behaviour we associate with rogue states.” Alas, it is part of a trend – the EU’s “wider campaign of intimidation since our decision to leave”. It has refused to give regulatory “equivalence” to British financial services companies in the EU, even though the UK has granted this for European firms. It tried to blockade our vaccines. The sad truth is that Europe’s leaders view Britain “not as a partner, but as a renegade province”.

Either way, “I think we can all be very proud of the part we played in the War of Jersey”, tweeted journalist Dan Hodges. “Everyone held firm. No panic buying. A moment of national pride.” My only sadness is that we didn’t send our new flagship aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, to show Paris who’s boss. Alas, it turns out she’s on a joint exercise. With the French.