The question may be offensive to red-blooded Britons, but it must be asked. Who is in the right in the new ‘scallop war’ — the French or the British fishermen?
To many it is an article of faith that whenever there has been a clash between the peoples of this island and our nearest continental neighbours, right has invariably lain on this side of the Channel.
But I have to say that, in this instance, the French fishermen have a case — though of course they were wrong to send an armada of 40 boats to ram British vessels, and generally terrorise our lads by throwing missiles at them.
To many it is an article of faith that whenever there has been a clash between the peoples of this island and our nearest continental neighbours, right has invariably lain on this side of the Channel
British sources claimed the French navy had been in the vicinity during attacks on UK boats and yet did nothing. Cornish fishermen also say the French have been stealing their lobster pots by way of retaliation.
What seems to have happened is that a so-called gentlemen’s agreement between the two sides about when and how to fish collapsed after a technical disagreement — and all hell broke loose.
Still, let us for a moment try to see things from a French point of view. Imagine that their fishermen had been fishing for scallops just over 12 miles from our coast, while our own fishermen had been legally prevented from casting their nets in the same waters for the next five weeks.
That is the mirror image of what is happening off Normandy. Our boats have been gathering scallops, which are bound to be less plentiful when French boats are finally allowed to drop their nets on October 1.
A French environmental law aimed at conserving scallops precludes their fishermen from dredging them until then, while British boats can freely gorge themselves on the same lucrative delicacy.
It’s obviously bonkers. That’s not to say that the British vessels were in any sense in the wrong for fishing for scallops where they did. They were acting entirely lawfully.
I believe we should blame neither French nor British fishermen, but the European Union, with its ridiculous one-size-fits-all, supranational Common Fisheries Policy.
For while it is perfectly true that the law which has stopped French boats fishing for scallops until the beginning of October was promulgated in Paris, not in Brussels, the Common Fisheries Policy is the real villain of the piece.
One could justly say that what occurred off the coast of Normandy serves as a kind of symbol of everything that is wrong with the EU, and its inexorable strategy to undermine and finally destroy the rights of individual nation states.
I have to say that, in this instance, the French fishermen have a case — though of course they were wrong to send an armada of 40 boats to ram British vessels, and generally terrorise our lads by throwing missiles at them
There was a time, of course, when we controlled our own waters. That was before Britain joined what was then the Common Market in 1973.
That organisation, like the European Union which grew out of it, clung to the novel belief that all waters outside 12-mile coastal limits were shared by every member state.
We all know the disastrous consequences of this policy. Over the past 45 years, the annual catch of British fishermen has roughly halved. Our fishing communities have been devastated as Dutch, German, French and Spanish trawlers entered what were once our waters, and caught what had previously been thought of as our fish.
Not only that. It was unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels, not elected politicians in London, who proposed new quotas and decreed which fish could, and could not, be caught in whichever quantities in waters we had once controlled.
Why couldn’t nation states continue to control their own waters after they had joined the burgeoning superstate? Why was it necessary for Brussels to lay claim to what had traditionally been thought of as a national right?
The answer is that sovereignty over the seas — like free movement of people and the Common Agricultural Policy and uniform environmental standards — was considered by Brussels as an indispensable cornerstone of a united Europe.
If a dyed-in-the-wool Remainer ever asks where the evidence is that the EU is turning into a unitary state with its own set of priorities, you only have to point to the virtual destruction of our fishing industry.
Every British government since 1973 has been powerless to reverse this damage.
Until now, that is. In theory, we will be able to control our own waters again when we leave the EU.
If there is a deal, that moment will come after December 31, 2020, when the transition period ends. If there is no deal, our waters will revert to us on March 29 next year.
I say ‘in theory’ because although Environment Secretary Michael Gove has tried to make reassuring noises, there are reasons for fearing that the Government will negotiate away sovereignty over our waters as part of a deal with the EU. Such a sell-out has been officially denied.
In other words, it is possible that our negotiators will agree to ceding permanent and statutory rights to EU countries allowing them to continue to fish in what some of us had fondly imagined would again become British waters.
Of course, if the Government were to decide to offer restricted access to some European fishermen for a limited period, that would be another matter — so long as such an agreement were not in any way conditional, and could be ended if, or when, London chose to.
The Government would be wise to remember that there were large majorities in most fishing communities in favour of Brexit in the June 2016 referendum.
In Scotland last year, the Tories staged a comeback in several constituencies with strong fishing connections. Any betrayal would carry a particularly heavy electoral price there.
But the dangers of a sell-out go even further than that. Many people who have little or nothing to do with fish, other than eating it, can grasp that regaining control over our waters is a deeply symbolic step. A betrayal of our fishermen would be a betrayal of Brexit.
To return to the French scallop fishermen, who are understandably angry that British boats are allowed to fish near the French coast while for the time being they can’t.
After Brexit — if we do regain control of our waters — a line will be drawn halfway across the Channel, and French fishermen will be able to fish for their scallops without interference from British boats.
But, equally, the French will no longer be able to cast their nets for scallops in areas such as the Hebrides.
Nor will their vessels be allowed, with EU indulgence, to fish for haddock less than 12 miles off the Cornish coast, as, incredibly, they are now.
The scallop war should remind us how vastly preferable it is for nation states to control their own waters in their own interests, instead of having Brussels lay down the law.
With any luck, relations between the two countries — or, at any rate, between French and British fishermen — will improve after national limits have been restored, and the EU’s writ no longer runs over our waters.
Was I the only one to find especially jarring the spectacle of French boats threatening British ones, so close to the same coast towards which, 74 years ago, thousands of British troops sailed on D-Day to liberate France?
Far from bringing us closer together, the Common Fisheries Policy has created discord, vituperation and resentment. For that, we should unhesitatingly blame the unelected panjandrums in Brussels.