party’s leaders have failed to find their voices. It is reminiscent of earlier debates, where the party’s deep divisions on Brexit hampered its ability to confront the government.

“I’ve been amazed by the reluctance of Labour to go after them,” said Anand Menon, a professor of European politics at Kings College London. “You can allude to Brexit without saying Brexit. You can say it’s because of the Tories’ rubbish trade deal.”

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Of Brexit and Boris: What’s Driving the Call for Scottish Independence

The millions of votes counted across Scotland on Saturday could be among the most consequential in recent times, and not because of their impact on things like health, education and fisheries. The greatest issue facing the country, and the one that was really at stake, was nowhere to be found on the ballot, and that is the future of its 314-year-old union with England.

While the last votes were still being counted on Saturday in the parliamentary elections, it appeared virtually certain that the pro-independence Scottish National Party would fall short of the majority it had hoped would create an irresistible momentum for a new referendum on breaking away from the United Kingdom. But it will retain power in Edinburgh, probably with the support of the Scottish Greens, guaranteeing that the issue will continue to dominate Scottish politics, as it has in recent years.

A lot. A second independence plebiscite, following one in 2014, could lead to the fracturing of the United Kingdom. Were Scotland to become independent, Britain would lose eight percent of its population, a third of its landmass and significant amounts of international prestige.

Some say the loss of Scotland would be the biggest blow to a British prime minister since Lord North lost the colonies in America in the 18th century. Understandably, the current prime minister, Boris Johnson, is no fan of the idea.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister. Her party has led the Scottish government for 14 years and she has earned praise for her steady handling of the coronavirus pandemic, particularly compared with the early performance of Mr. Johnson.

There are smaller parties that want another vote, too, like the Greens, who are close to the S.N.P. Another pro-independence party, Alba, is led by Alex Salmond, who is not an ally of Ms. Sturgeon — at least not any more. A former first minister himself, Mr. Salmond was once Ms. Sturgeon’s mentor, but the two have recently been embroiled in a bitter feud, and his election campaign fell flat.

Re-established in 1999, Scotland’s Parliament was designed to quiet calls for Scottish independence, but it hasn’t worked out like that. The pro-independence S.N.P. has become the dominant force and, in 2011, won a rare overall majority in a Parliament where the voting system is designed to avoid any one party’s domination. After that result, the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron reluctantly agreed to the 2014 independence referendum.

Ms. Sturgeon had been hoping that a thumping victory for the pro-independence parties in these elections would give her the moral authority to demand another plebiscite. They fell short, but Ms. Sturgeon will keep up pressure for a referendum claiming that, combined with the vote for the Greens, she has a mandate.

They show a divided Scotland, split down the middle over independence. That is in line with the findings of opinion polls that last year showed a majority favoring independence only to fall back slightly in recent months. The Scottish Conservatives, the opposition Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats all oppose independence.

So dominant is the issue that some anti-independence voters seem to have switched allegiance from their normal parties to support the one most likely to defeat the S.N.P. in their area. Ms. Sturgeon is on course to remain first minister, which is an impressive achievement, but with her path to an overall majority likely cut off, her moral case for a second referendum has been weakened.

For a second independence referendum to be legal it would almost certainly need the agreement of London, and Mr. Johnson has repeatedly said no. That’s a big problem for Ms. Sturgeon, because she wants the result of any second referendum to be accepted internationally and for Scotland to be allowed to return to the European Union.

Far from it. Even if she has to rely on the Greens, Ms. Sturgeon is likely to have enough votes to push legislation for “indyref2” through the Scottish Parliament and then challenge Mr. Johnson or his allies to stop it in court.

That could cause a constitutional crisis. After all, Scotland’s union with England in 1707 was voluntary, making it hard for London to say no forever to another referendum. And Ms. Sturgeon may calculate that support for independence will only grow if Scots see the popular will being blocked by a government in England.

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U.K. and France Send Naval Ships to Channel Island in Tense Fishing Dispute

LONDON — An ugly spat over post-Brexit fishing rights has erupted into a stranger-than-fiction maritime standoff between Britain and France, as naval ships from both countries converged on Thursday in the waters off the island of Jersey, where dozens of French fishing boats were threatening to blockade a port.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson dispatched two British Navy vessels, the H.M.S. Tamar and the H.M.S. Severn, on Wednesday evening as a “precautionary measure,” according to his office.

On Thursday, France deployed two naval patrol boats near Jersey, about 14 miles off the coast of France to “ensure the safety of navigation” as well as the “safety of human life at sea” in case the situation deteriorated, according to a spokeswoman for the French maritime authorities in charge of the English Channel.

The naval deployments escalated a dispute that has simmered for weeks, after French fishing crews accused the local authorities in Jersey of imposing burdensome new requirements to allow them to continue to fish in Jersey’s coastal waters, following Britain’s split with the European Union in January.

Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands, is not part of the United Kingdom but is a crown dependency, a special status that gives it self-governing rights, including its own legislative assembly, as well as fiscal and legal systems.

Dozens of French fishing boats have massed near the port of St. Helier, the capital of Jersey, threatening to block access to it. A French government official warned earlier this week that France could cut off the power supply to Jersey, which is delivered through underwater cables from France.

The dispute, which flared unexpectedly on the eve of regional elections in Britain, presented Mr. Johnson with a tailor-made opportunity to flex British military muscles in defense of British fishing rights, which were a sticking point throughout the difficult trade negotiations between Britain and the European Union.

“The prime minister underlined his unwavering support for Jersey,” a spokesman for Downing Street told the British news media on Wednesday. Mr. Johnson, the spokesman said, called for a “de-escalation in tensions” and said any blockade would be “completely unjustified.”

Relations between Britain and France had already soured on a range of issues as Britain and the European Union divorced. President Emmanuel Macron of France raised doubts about the efficacy of a coronavirus vaccine developed at the University of Oxford and produced by AstraZeneca, a British-based drugmaker, prompting charges of “vaccine nationalism.”

In December, Mr. Macron briefly cut off access to freight shipments to and from Britain to prevent a fast-spreading variant of the virus that originated in Britain from leaping across the English Channel. The British tabloids pounced.

“Kick in the Baubles,” said a headline in the Sun, suggesting that France was conspiring to ruin the Christmas holiday for people in Britain. “Monsieur Roadblock Gives Way,” said a headline in the Daily Mail after Mr. Macron agreed to lift the ban, subject to a virus testing program for truck drivers.

Fishing was one of the thorniest issues when Britain negotiated its new trade agreement with the European Union, which came into force in January. The deal ended decades during which Britain’s fishing fleet was under the same system as France, with their catches negotiated regularly among the member countries.

Many in Britain’s fishing industry supported Brexit because they believed that for decades, they had been forced to share too much of the fish caught in Britain’s coastal waters with continental crews.

But the agreement sealed by Mr. Johnson and negotiators in Brussels just before Christmas was a disappointment to British fishing communities, who had been promised a “sea of opportunities” by Brexit supporters.

Instead, the increase in annual quotas for British fishing crews was initially modest. And because Britain has left Europe’s single market for goods, British fish and shellfish require more documentation and checks when sent to markets in continental Europe, making them more difficult and expensive to export.

The trade agreement also addressed the complicated issue of fishing around Jersey. The island has the right to impose its own licensing requirements and has left French fishermen complaining of difficulties in receiving the authorization they need to fish in waters they have worked for decades.

Fishing rights have long provoked acute tensions between Britain and its neighbors. From the 1950s to the 1970s, Britain was embroiled in a confrontation with Iceland that became known as the “cod wars.” At its peak, 37 Royal Naval vessels were mobilized to protect British trawlers in disputed waters.

While these clashes have not mutated into broader military conflicts, analyst and diplomats said there was always a risk of accidental escalation. Others said it served to show the loose ends left by the Brexit process.

“This is the kind of old-fashioned dispute that the European Union was created to prevent,” said Simon Fraser, the former top civil servant in Britain’s Foreign Office. “When you leave the European Union, you risk reopening them.”

“It’s also an extraordinarily retrogressive thing to be fighting over fish in the English Channel, at a time when we’re hosting the G-7 summit and trying to talk about a new global role for Britain,” Mr. Fraser said.

Constant Méheut contributed reporting from Paris.

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