The BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, misrepresented a letter on the UK/EU fishing row by French Prime Minister Jean Castex – apparently to stoke international tensions on the eve of the G20 and COP26 summits.
The UK and France are sabre-rattling over rights to fish in each other’s waters, after the UK prohibited some French trawlers over a technicality.
Kuenssberg aggravated the row by publicising a letter from Castex to European Commission President Ursula van der Leyen, claiming it said the EU needed to demonstrate that there was “more damage to leaving the EU than remaining there”.
This is based on a translation publicised by Alex Wickham of Politico. In tweets, he claimed the letter said:
“It is indispensable to demonstrate to European public opinion that more damage is suffered by leaving the EU than by remaining.”
The implication is that the EU should actively punish the UK.
An alternative translation by Edwin Hayward states the following:
“The UK’s uncooperative stance today threatens to cause great harm not only to fishermen, especially the French, but also to them [European] Union as it sets a precedent for the future and challenges our credibility and our ability to enforce our rights in relation to the international commitments signed by the union.
“It therefore seems necessary for the European Union to show its full determination to achieve full respect for the Agreement by the United Kingdom and to exercise its rights in a firm, cohesive and proportionate manner using the levers at its disposal.
“It is important to make it clear to European public opinion that respect for commitment is non-negotiable and that leaving the union does more harm than staying there.
“If a satisfactory solution is not found in this context, the European Union must apply Article 506 of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement and take corrective measures proportionate to the economic and social damage that [violations] will cause.”
That makes it a little different, once it’s put into context!
As Hayward states in his own article,
It should be immediately clear from the above text that there is no active intent to punish the UK. All the French want to do is to highlight the problems that Brexit has been causing — they are not trying to inflict new ones on us.
And people know:
Jean Castex's letter was totally misrepresented. It was written to VDL to reaffirm old rules: 1.signed agreements must be respected & 2.being outside of EU can't be as advantageous as being out. Simples. His words were mistranslated, taken out of context & changed into propaganda
— V. #IWearAMask #InLimbo #LesMaitresdelOrage (@InlimboV) October 31, 2021
(He means “…can’t be as advantageous as being IN” of course.)
Robert Peston said in his tweet that Boris Johnson has swallowed the Wickham translation and is “visibly angry” about the letter. But is he?
Which Johnson knows full well, and his 'visible anger' is disingenuous.
— Noëlle No-vember (@noelle_nole1) October 31, 2021
If Johnson is as well-educated as he’s supposed to be (Eton and Oxford) then it is entirely possible that he can read French for himself and knows exactly what the letter said. If so, then he is simply trying to manipulate a situation created by reporters (who probably can’t – with apologies to Kuenssberg and Peston if they turn out to be fluent, but that just implies that they know they’re peddling falsehoods and don’t care either).
This Writer, as a journalist and editor of nearly 28 years’ standing, agrees with Marcus Chown, below:
What has happened to “journalistic standards”, to fact checking, to honest reporting? Why isn’t the National Union of Journalists shouting about this from the roooftops and doing something about it? https://t.co/G1bf2ECMZo
— Marcus Chown (@marcuschown) November 1, 2021
Indeed. Or indeed any journalist-training organisation such as the one that taught me (the National Council for the Training of Journalists). Where did Peston and Kuenssberg get their qualifications?
Actually, let’s check.
Kuenssberg, it seems, has no qualification as a journalist. She studied History at the University of Edinburgh, then spent a year studying (but the subject is not clarified) at Georgetown University in Washington DC, where she interned at the NBC News political programme. Returning to the UK, she eventually joined the BBC as a trainee journalist – but that doesn’t mean she was doing any training. ‘Trainee’ is just the name applied to a working reporter who hasn’t passed the test to become a Senior Reporter. If she was trained in the States, it was in an American standard of reporting.
Peston’s degree at Oxford was Politics, Philosophy and Economics. He then studied at the Université libre de Bruxelles – but again, it’s not clear what the subject was. He entered journalism via another back door, writing for the Investors Chronicle after being a stockbroker.
Those details aren’t very reassuring!
But it shouldn’t be up to the Kuenssbergs, Pestons, or even the Johnsons of this world to sort out this row. It’s a matter for the French.
All Jean Castex has to do is come out and read the relevant part of his letter, along with a translation into English saying exactly what he intended it to say.
That should end any ambiguity. How about it?
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