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The wind and rain had been fairly gentle, however for Boris Johnson the Jersey fishing stand-off was the proper storm.
From the early morning arrival of the Royal Navy till their night return to Portsmouth, the PM had been allowed to challenge himself as a muscular interventionist in a spat that dominated the information agenda all through polling day.
In fact, the timing was dictated by the French fishermen’s protest, reasonably than being a part of some dastardly plan by Johnson to hijack the headlines as Britons voted of their greatest elections since 2019. It was a present from Normandy, not a plot hatched in Downing Avenue, although many Tory MPs had been no much less delighted.
There will likely be some who say that the entire row is dangerous for Johnson because it exposes the issues in his skinny UK-EU commerce deal, with British fishermen going through simply as a lot ache as their French counterparts. Solely final week, the collapse of bilateral talks with Norway on fishing rights put tons of of jobs in danger in Humberside.
From Devon to Scotland, the shellfish trade is in actual jeopardy too, with many accusing the federal government of breaking its guarantees. Whereas the Jersey “cod conflict” was a one-day marvel of army showmanship that veered from excessive drama to low farce, the PM can’t repair the deep flaws in his Brexit deal by sending gunboats to Hull, Brixham or Aberdeen. (Or Dublin, for that matter).
However such arguments could also be misplaced on the majority of the voting public, significantly these in “Purple Wall” former Labour areas that identical to the sight of “Boris biffing the French”. And the very fact is that if anybody escalated the “conflict”, it was the French authorities with its inflammatory menace to chop off electrical energy provides to the Channel island.
Furthermore, Labour was not making any arguments in regards to the wider issues with Johnson’s Brexit deal. Shadow defence secretary John Healey gave his full backing to the deployment of the Navy ships, stressing they might “reassure residents and defend Britain’s broader nationwide pursuits” after France’s threats.
The larger problem is that, for all his denials, Keir Starmer does appear to have a “don’t point out the conflict” method on Brexit itself. Whereas Johnson makes use of any alternative to slide in a reminder of his Vote Depart X-factor (from halting the European Tremendous League to the EU’s inglorious vaccine file), Starmer prefers to not dwell on it.
The Labour chief has tried arduous to reassure former Labour voters that the problem is “settled”, not least by voting for the PM’s deal final yr. For a lot of critics, the so-called Commerce and Co-Operation Settlement is a misnomer given its curbs on commerce and its lack of co-operation. Many in enterprise, farming and finance desire a a lot better deal.
Neither Starmer nor his shadow cupboard increase the deal’s downsides, for worry of being accused of eager to reverse it or unpick it. Even suggesting it ought to be improved raises the entire problem of a renegotiation that’s fraught with political hazard. If Starmer says the subsequent Labour authorities would ship “a greater Brexit”, he dangers annoying each Brexit and Remainer voters.
Regardless of that, there are some within the celebration who’re more and more pissed off with the silence. The argument is that simply as Starmer has taken the gloves off over bits of the pandemic and over sleaze, he ought to be courageous sufficient to start out figuring out how he can flip the “skinny” deal right into a full-fat one that might maintain extra jobs and livelihoods. In spite of everything, they argue, the subsequent manifesto can’t ignore Europe, can it?
No matter he decides, the Jersey showdown simply reveals as soon as extra the bind Starmer is in. The coalition of voters he must construct appears inherently extra unstable than that which Johnson has constructed.
Labour must blame Johnson, not the voters, for any job losses and anaemic progress attributable to Brexit (and don’t overlook the unbiased OBR says that hit is larger than even the Covid pandemic). And that’s a lot, a lot more durable than sending in a gunboat.