Forty French fishing boats attack five British boats in the Channel. Stones and smoke bombs are thrown. Rude words are exchanged in two languages. The British retreat.
Similar incidents have been happening for 15 years – or arguably for the last 900 years. The rights and wrong are complicated. Yesterday evening the French boats were undoubtedly the aggressors. They put to sea not in order to fish, but to harass the English and Scottish boats that had entered “their waters”.
It was foolhardy of the French fishermen, but they do have reasons to be exasperated. The latest outbreak of the Baie de la Seine scallop war should be seen in the context of Brexit and the deep uncertainties and exaggerated expectations encouraged by simplistic and vague UK plans to reclaim “our seas” and “our fish”.
Ironies abound. In the this dispute, British boats are asserting their right to fish in French waters even when they are closed to French trawlers. This right depends on EU rules, but pre-dates the EU fishing policy.
In any case, the row is not just about France v Britain. It is also about Big Boats v Small Boats, and the ecological damage caused by modern methods of industrial-scale fishing.
First, some facts. The clashes took place in “French waters” – that is to say about 15 miles from the French coast at a point where the Channel is about 100 miles wide, well beyond any possible legal definition of British waters. There were 40 French boats and five British – but the French boats were tiny and the British boats were large.