HENRY DEEDES sees MPs going overboard in the latest Channel battle

Fishermen’s lives at risk? How? Will they wallop each other with giant turbots? HENRY DEEDES sees MPs going overboard in the latest Channel battle

Rivalry with the French is one of the great British pastimes. 

No one knows why we enjoy it so much, we just do. It’s like talking about the weather or morris dancing. (Actually, less so the morris dancing.)

Oh sure, we pretend we’re friends – all that hands across the Channel and Entente Cordiale cockamamie. 

Truthfully though, we’re never happier than when we’re engaged in a bit of cross-Channel bashing.

Take the current fishing war – which has now worsened – after France seized one of our scallop trawlers. Apparently it was operating without the correct licence. 

Oh please! Donnez-moi un break, as the PM would say. We all know it’s because the Frenchies are still blubbing into their Breton tops over Brexit.

So given the history, Conservative MPs simply couldn’t wait to get stuck in yesterday when an urgent question on Le Row summoned Environment Secretary George Eustice to the despatch box. 

Britain’s Environment Secretary George Eustice arrives in Downing Street for a cabinet meeting on Wednesday

French gendarmes aboard the Cornelis-Gert Jan scallop boat which has been impounded by the French Gendarmerie Maritime for illegally fishing in the Bay of the Seine in French waters

The British trawler Cornelis Gert Jan pictured moored in the port of Le Havre after it was seized on Thursday

Mr Eustice is a creature of the old school. His bucolic manner speaks of fading Barbour jackets and dopey Labradors staring out the back of Land Rovers. 

Not for him any Faragist anti-Gallic rantings. ‘Disappointing’ was the word he kept using to describe the ding-dong. 

Tory MPs shuffled impatiently in their seats. They wanted bombast.

The question had been tabled by the SNP’s Deidre Brock (Edin- burgh N). The SNP always seize upon these incidents as proof that Brexit isn’t working.

Sure enough, Ms Brock might as well have been a powder-wigged emissaire from the Elysee Palace, so happy was she to parrot France’s version of events.

‘Paris says…’ she repeated. Paris says? Well, that’s all right then.

This mildly pathetic genuflection was detected by Tim Loughton (Con, E Worthing), from whose constituency the captured boat operates.

It was appalling, he said, how quick the Scots Nats were to take the side of the French rather than standing up for British interests.

Labour’s fishing spokesman Luke Pollard (Plymouth Sutton) was marginally less drippy, but still struck me as bit of a wet haddock.

I notice his CV claims he specialised in European politics at university. Another Brussels fan boy in other words.

He constantly warned against any language that could put lives at risk at sea. What were fishermen going to do? Wallop each other with giant turbots?

Mr Pollard also wanted assurances the detained trawlermen were OK. Calm down, dear. 

They were being held in Le Havre, not gagged and chained to a radiator in Beirut. Mr Eustice’s diplomatic utterings weren’t sufficient for some Conservative colleagues. 

This was an act of sabre rattling from Paris pure and simple. Bob Seely (Con, Isle of Wight) accused President Emmanuel Macron of trying to drum up support ahead of an election he looks destined to lose.

The President of the French Republic Emmanuel Macron during the ceremony organized for the return of 26 works from the royal treasures of Abomey to the Republic of Benin, at the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac Museum, Paris

Prime Minister Boris Johnson pictured leaving 10 Downing Street on Thursday

Handsome boulevardier Michael Fabricant (Con, Lichfield) gave a coquettish flick of his golden fringe. 

‘This is nothing new,’ Fab shrugged nonchalantly. He recommended Stephen Clarke’s 1000 years of Annoying the French for those seeking enlightenment.

Lia Nici (Con, Great Grimsby) concurred. ‘We expect nothing less from French politicians,’ she spat. 

A fiery piece of work, Ms Nici. We may need to keep an eye on her.

There was an unpleasant intervention from a sour pip called Karin Smyth (Lab, Bristol S). 

‘Isn’t it really time now to get rid of Lord Frost?’ she said, a reference to the Prime Minister’s ripsnorting Brexit negotiator.

The Conservative benches spluttered in outrage.

‘He’s obviously got a lot of friends – probably why he’s there,’ Smyth continued. She wore the face of someone who’d just had a rotten kipper placed under her hooter.

Strains of Elgar’s Nimrod rose as that ripe John Bull Andrew Bridgen (Con, NW Leicestershire) stood up. 

Mr Bridgen was in the mood to take the fight to Monsieur Macron. 

He informed the Chamber that ‘history shows this House and our great nation’s interests are best served by standing up to little Napoleons clinging on to power’.

Ah, now that’s the spirit! C’mon, Boris, imagine it. Stiffen the sinews, summon the blood. We could be in Paris by Christmas…

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