Brexit was all about fish – and fish is the altar upon which the nation has been happily sacrificed

·3-min read
‘Didn’t they spend all of 2019 negotiating about fish before finally, and dramatically sorting it all out?’  (Getty)
‘Didn’t they spend all of 2019 negotiating about fish before finally, and dramatically sorting it all out?’ (Getty)

It is arguably disappointing that a once-in-a-century pandemic that shut down the entire world for an entire year, will – according to the government’s own analysis – only be half as economically damaging as the decision to leave the European Union, which was inflicted on us by absolutely no one apart from ourselves.

Brexit will shrink the economy by 4 per cent, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, compared to a mere 2 per cent for Covid, though of course it is not an either/or. We really do get to enjoy both.

But look, that’s enough doom-mongering for now. It’s important to focus on the positives, here in the “new era of optimism” in which Rishi Sunak and absolutely nobody else thinks we live in.

And there are upsides. These are arguably well-known by now. One is sovereignty and the other one is fish. Brexit was all about fish. Fish is the altar upon which the nation has been happily sacrificed. It didn’t matter if it was a disaster for such pointless parochial industries like, say, banking, as long as we got all our fish back.

So it is arguably also disappointing that a British fishing boat has been, in effect, taken prisoner by French authorities, quite possibly for no good reason at all, and there’s nothing we can do about it. No fish, in other words, and no sovereignty either.

How did we allow this to happen? Didn’t that oven-ready Brexit deal thing have something like 42 pages about fish, a UK industry almost exactly the same size as the pet insurance sector, and almost nothing about anything else?

Didn’t they spend all of 2019 negotiating about fish before finally, and dramatically sorting it all out? So, again, arguably it is disappointing that it very clearly isn’t sorted, and it will instead rattle on for all time, in the company of its close friend, the Irish border question, because ultimately it can never be sorted?

Or rather, it was sorted, the solution to the question was, in actual fact, the European Union itself, but now a new solution is required because that one, frankly, was too easy.

Who among us can know what the rights and wrongs of the situation are. The accepted wisdom appears to be that the seizing of the vessel marks the first shots being fired in a French attempt to inflict Brexit misery on the UK.

What was never really discussed very much, in the UK, when we went first temporarily (but now permanently) insane about “taking back control of our waters” is that, having done so, there would then be the problem of having so utterly infuriated the people who we have always required to actually buy the fish found therein.

From here, we are told, that after various grace periods on importing and exporting expire, as they will do soon, the next steps are likely to involve France making life as difficult as possible for British fish as they can – needlessly thorough checks at Calais, as many forms to fill in as they can possibly think of and not just on fish but quite possibly on everything, dished out, in essence as a kind of Brexit punishment beating, to show that it is a bad idea.

The moral rights and wrongs of it are there to be debated. But the reality isn’t. When you “take back control”, well, you also give it back to the people you’d been sharing it with. Maybe there are upsides to the messy business of sharing, and of compromise. But most depressingly of all, maybe Brexit is actually only just getting started.

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