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France’s European affairs minister, Clement Beaune, said the European Union could look to leverage its electricity supplies to the U.K. in an effort to force Boris Johnson’s government to grant access to British fishing waters.
Beaune said that the EU will take action in the next few days to increase the pressure on the U.K., which is a net importer of power from France. Any interruption to those flows would threaten a British grid that is already under pressure.
“The Channel Islands, the U.K. are dependent on us for their energy supply,” Beaune said in an interview on Europe1 radio. “They think they can live on their own and badmouth Europe as well. And because it doesn’t work, they indulge in one-upmanship, and in an aggressive way.”
The issue of post-Brexit fishing rights emerged again as a flashpoint in the difficult relationship between London and Paris last week when the U.K. granted just a fraction of the licenses which the French authorities had expected. The U.K. said the fishermen had failed to demonstrate they had a history of working in British waters. The French say the British are breaching the Brexit agreement.
The dispute has held up negotiations over granting British finance firms access to the EU market and the two sides even deployed warships to Jersey this year when French boats briefly blockaded the island’s main port. But exploiting the U.K.’s dependency on French power supplies at a moment when surging energy prices are alarming politicians across Europe would constitute a serious escalation.
The U.K. is reliant on two massive power cables that transport electricity from France’s nuclear power stations across the Channel. Any interruption to that supply would squeeze a tight U.K. energy market even further, pushing up prices that have already sent a clutch of firms out of business.
“Brexit is populism in action,” Beaune said. “It’s shown to be a tragic failure.”
— With assistance by Vidya N Root, and Rachel Morison