After three years of political wrangling, Britain will finally leave the EU at 11pm tomorrow. It will be a new chapter for the country’s national history – one that will hopefully see the UK return to being an independent sovereign state after the transition period. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has only 11 months to negotiate a free trade agreement and, in a sign of the battles still to be fought, France has demanded Britain grant EU countries access to UK fishing waters for 25 years after Brexit in exchange for a free trade agreement with Brussels.
The EU has warned that successfully concluding a fishing deal with the UK – ideally by July 1 this year – is a prerequisite for any future trade deal, which Mr Johnson wants done by the end of 2020.
Britain is understood to be willing to accept only a one-year agreement on quotas and fishing rights, setting up the first major showdown of negotiations that will start on March 3.
It is not the first time that politicians in Paris have attempted to treat Britain unfairly for its domestic interests, though.
When British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan applied to join the EEC – the precursor to the EU – for the first time in the Sixties, French President Charles de Gaulle kept the UK out by vetoing its entry in two occasions.
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Despite many claiming de Gaulle was concerned about the UK’s fundamental incompatibility with the ideals of the EEC, a throwback report written by the late journalist and author Christopher Booker suggests the French President simply had the interests of his country at heart.
General de Gaulle knew the UK would oppose and probably demand to reject the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) if it was a member, which was and still is crucial to France’s economic security and social stability.
In a 2018 report by the Daily Telegraph, Mr Booker wrote: “The clever French noted that the Treaty of Rome promised a Common Agricultural Policy but without giving any details.
“So their answer was to devise a CAP so absurdly loaded in France’s favour that two other countries would not only provide a market for its surpluses but pay for subsidising them into the bargain.
“Those countries were Germany and Britain, which by then had announced its intention to join the Common Market.
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French President Emmanuel Macron
Former French President Charles de Gaulle
“But the UK had to be kept out until all these arcane financial arrangements had been agreed.
“Otherwise Britain, with then the most efficient agricultural sector in Europe, might well block such a one-sided deal: hence the real reason for de Gaulle’s two vetoes in 1963 and 1967.
“Only in 1969, at a summit in The Hague, did the French finally get the agreement they wanted.
“The very next item on the agenda was to reconsider Britain’s application to join.”
Mr Booker notes how in the Seventies, former Prime Minister Edward Heath was so keen to get Britain into Europe, that “he accepted the CAP without demur”.
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De Gaulle knew the UK would oppose and probably scrap the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)
He explained that in 1973, the year Britain joined the Community, British farm incomes were higher than ever before, but “so loaded against us were the financial arrangements for the CAP that, by 1979, it was clear that within six years the UK would be the largest single net contributor to the Brussels budget, of which the CAP was then taking 90 percent: hence Mrs Thatcher’s five-year battle to win her rebate”.
Since then, Mr Booker claimed much of British agriculture has been in decline as “we now import 30 percent of our food from the EU, much of it comes from France, which continues to be the largest beneficiary of the CAP”.
Outgoing Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan echoed Mr Booker’s claims in an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk last week.
When asked why the French President vetoed Britain’s entry into the Common Market, Mr Hannan said: “He wanted France to be the dominant force within the EEC.
“I think that is hard to argue with.”