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Sensemaker: Standoff in the sea

Sensemaker: Standoff in the sea

What just happened

Long stories short

  • A 22-storey block collapsed in Lagos, killing at least five people and leaving dozens missing.
  • Meta removed over 1,000 fake accounts from Facebook and Instagram that it said were part of a disinformation campaign by Nicaragua’s government.
  • The International Handball Federation said female beach players can now wear “body fit” tank tops and “short tight pants” instead of bikinis after its original dress code was branded sexist.

Standoff in the sea

At a time when France and the UK might have been paying full attention to tackling climate change, they’re locked in a dispute over fishing rights. Fishing accounts for 0.1 per cent of UK GDP and 0.06 per cent of France’s, but the row is serious. As Britain hosts the world, mutual trust across the Channel has evaporated.

The dispute. Under the terms of Brexit, French boats are allowed to fish close to the UK shore and off the coasts of Jersey and Guernsey as long as they have a licence issued by Britain. But France believes the UK is being ungenerous: it’s been given half the 454 licences it wants and says it may impose tougher border controls if it doesn’t get more. Smaller French boats are struggling to meet conditions that require them to show they’ve fished in UK waters on at least four days over the last four years. Many don’t have the GPS data. The UK contends that it has offered permits to 1,673 EU vessels since December. 

Escalation. Macron delayed punitive border checks last night but the past few days have generated more heat than light:

Overnight on Thursday France detained a British scallop trawler off Le Havre, saying it didn’t have the proper licence to fish in French waters.

On Friday the UK Foreign Office summoned France’s ambassador for a dressing down. 

On Sunday the Telegraph published a leaked letter in which France’s prime minister told the president of the EU Commission it was “essential to make clear to European public opinion that compliance with the commitments… is non-negotiable and that leaving the Union is more damaging than remaining in it”. The headline: “Britain must be punished for Brexit, says France.”

On Monday the UK foreign secretary Liz Truss told France it had 48 hours to back down or Britain would “seek some compensatory measures”.

A partial climbdown. Ahead of an 11pm deadline, Macron postponed sanctions against Britain that might have included a) closing French ports to UK boats, b) making it more difficult for UK lorries to transport goods into mainland Europe, and in extremis c) restricting electricity to the Channel Islands (which depend heavily on French power). It may have helped ease tensions that one of those islands, Jersey, issued another 49 licences to French boats. But things may fall apart again. Macron said he’d see where things were at the end of today.

Why this matters. Fishing may be a small part of the British and French economies, but an entrenched dispute would have implications beyond trawlers and trout. Trade, national security, international climate action and making common cause against Russian and Chinese attacks on democracy all rely to an extent on Anglo-French cooperation. Johnson and Macron have been accused of playing to crowds back home but Lord Ricketts, the former foreign office permanent secretary and UK ambassador to Paris, has spoken of a “total collapse of confidence” that could do real economic damage. He sees the root cause as a government that doesn’t keep its word, and he’s not talking about France.

Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Continuity in Tokyo
Fumio Kishida, a baseball-loving centrist written off by some pundits as too dull to inspire voters, led Japan’s ruling coalition to a comfortable victory in a general election held on Sunday. Kishida replaced Yoshihide Suga as prime minister last month after Suga stepped down to focus on anti-Covid measures amid plummeting ratings. The win means Kishida’s Liberal Democratic Party stays in power (it has only not been in power twice since 1955), but there are a couple of clouds on the horizon. Voter turnout was at its third lowest level since the end of World War Two. And Japan Innovation Party, a rightwing populist group whose leader drove people to panic buy iodine solution after claiming it was effective against Covid, quadrupled its seat count to become the third biggest party in Japan’s lower house. It won nearly every seat in Osaka.

New things technology, science, engineering

Space conkers
Twenty-three years after Bruce Willis and co flew to space to destroy an asteroid headed for earth in the Hollywood blockbuster Armageddon, Nasa is testing a more measured and less sacrificial approach. Instead of splitting an asteroid in half with a bomb, the space agency will smash the 163-metre Dimorphos moonlet at nearly 15,000 miles per hour with an (unmanned) 19-metre spacecraft. Nasa will aim to shove the rock onto a new orbit around the near-Earth asteroid Didymos, thus proving its ability to redirect asteroids that head our way in the future. Nasa will tell us more in a Thursday briefing. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test mission, or Dart, will launch between late November and early February, arriving at its target next autumn. The threat from asteroids is small, but low odds didn’t help the dinosaurs.

The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

Sleeves down, tools down
Whoever wins New York City’s mayoral election today will have some cajoling to do. Yesterday 9,000 public workers, including one in four firefighters, were put on unpaid leave for failing to get a first dose of the Covid vaccine. The mandate has succeeded in pushing up vaccination levels: the proportion of vaccinated workers at the New York Police Department is at 85 per cent, up from 70 per cent when the mandate was announced, while the rate of city workers as a whole has jumped from 86 per cent to 91 in the past week. But that leaves 9 per cent unvaccinated and even small pockets of resistance are causing difficulties – especially when the refuseniks aren’t evenly distributed across agencies. Workers at the sanitation department, where just 79 per cent of people have had a jab, are on 12-hour shifts to plug mandate-related gaps.

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Equine quandary
Australian scientists think a plan to cull as many as 10,000 feral horses isn’t enough. They’ve written an open letter warning that Kosciuszko, an alpine national park in New South Wales, will continue to suffer from overgrazing and vegetation damage if 3,000 wild horses are kept alive as per current plans. In 2018 a law was passed that effectively outlawed their culling. There are comparable situations in the US Midwest where 86,000 wild mustangs threaten the habitats of native species and in Colombia where descendants of Pablo Escobar’s hippos run wild. We can’t pretend the minutiae of protecting ecosystems are easy. No one wants to kill a horse.

For the latest from Cop26, please see your daily Net Zero Sensemaker.

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Red light
Online scammers made off with an estimated $2.5 million after a Squid Game cryptocurrency jumped more than 310,000 per cent in value before collapsing. The cryptocurrency was in theory going to be a payment system for users to play an online version of Squid Game touted for release this month. But yesterday the developers of the project cashed out their coins, draining the liquidity pool of the market it had created and leaving investors high and dry. Within 15 minutes, $2 billion in market value was lost and the price of a single token fell from $2,861 to basically zero. The media should feel some responsibility for investor losses. CNBC and the BBC were among major news outlets who got excited about the runaway value of the currency while somewhat burying signs that it had clear hallmarks of being a scam, in particular an “anti-dumping technology” that prevented people from selling their tokens.

Thanks for reading, and do share this around.

Xavier Greenwood

Produced by Phoebe Davis and edited by Giles Whittell.

Photographs Getty Images, NASA/Johns Hopkins, APL/Steve Gribben, Netflix