NEWSFLASH MAY 2022: ‘War with France is over!’
Should Britain go to war over Jersey? Last night an uneasy peace descended over St Helier. This FICTIONAL report from the future imagines a very different scenario… and its repercussions.
7 MAY, 2022. ST HELIER, JERSEY. From your special correspondent.
This morning, the population of Jersey erupted in celebration after peace was declared with France. Locals feasted on roast beef and popped bottles of British sparkling wine. Morris dancers thronged the streets, and the Royal Navy’s brass band played Jerusalem 12 times in a row — once for each month of the war.
Said British Prime Minister Johnson: “I welcome France’s decision not to be selfish over shellfish, and to demonstrate how to run a whelk stall without violence.”
Newly-elected French President Marine Le Pen said: “I am glad to be at peace with the United Kingdom. We look forward to a new entente cordiale against our common foes in Brussels.”
Next week, a special BBC mini-series will tell the full story of the War of the Whelks, the year-long conflict that reignited almost 800 years of enmity between Britain and France, from the Norman Conquest to the Battle of Waterloo.
The first episode will look at the war’s inception last May, when over 80 French fishing boats blocked shipping lanes outside St Helier harbour to protest strict new fishing licenses. On 4 May, the French maritime minister issued a threat: let us fish, or we will turn off the lights.
Britain responded by sending two Royal Navy gunboats. France sent its own in retaliation. But hostilities only sparked after a French trawler rammed a British sailing boat. That afternoon, Johnson declared war, boasting that Britain would “have its crab and eat it”.
Episode two will chart how the conflict spiralled out of control. The Royal Navy launched Operation Claw Cracker, deploying its new 65,000-tonne, 280m-long aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth to intimidate French fishing boats. In response, Macron unleashed the French Army’s jet-powered hover-boards. Dogfights lit the skies.
On the domestic front, the French government banned all exports to the British Isles, depriving Britons of champagne, salami and Camembert. The EU extended the ban, forcing the population to subsist on a basic diet of cabbages, potatoes and rhubarb.
The final part will examine how the war wound down. Scotland voted by 97% to leave Britain. Frustration in France saw former President Macron face a historic first-round election defeat against Le Pen in the presidential elections. (She campaigned for a war with Germany instead).
Proceedings came to an abrupt halt when US president Joe Biden phoned Johnson and Le Pen and told them to shake hands. The deal that followed gave the French full access to Jersey shellfish. Unbowed, Johnson hailed it as a “great victory.”
Please note: This tongue-in-cheek flight of fancy aims to explore the UK’s historic tension with France in the light of the dramatic scenes off Jersey yesterday. None of it is true. But perhaps it can help us think about the crucial question: should Britain go to war over Jersey?
Why not, say some. War is one of the defining forces of history, and Britain and France have feuded for almost a millennium. The past two centuries of peace and alliance are a rare exception. If France threatens Jersey, Britain has the right to use all tools it has at its disposal to mount a response. And if diplomatic approaches fail, war is necessary to defend the lives of Jersey’s citizens.
Never, say others. The hard-won peace in Europe should be retained at all cost. Even the smallest war represents a pointless, indefensible loss of human life. Conflict seldom solves the issues that cause it, and one war often leads to others, as Anglo-French history demonstrates. Incidents like the Jersey fracas should be solved by conversation and compromise, rather than threats of violence.
- Should politicians have the power to declare war?
- Why do countries fall out with others?
- In pairs, design a propaganda poster urging British citizens to support a war against France. Present your poster to the class.
- Divide into groups of three and choose a war from history. Write a short sketch depicting the causes, events and results of the war, with roles for both sides and a narrator. Perform the sketch for the class.
Some People Say...
“One of the most effective means of preserving peace is to be prepared for War.”George Washington (1732 – 1799), first president of the United States of America.
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Historians concur that Britain and France have often come into conflict. The Norman Conquest of 1066 saw a French duke conquer England. Between 1109 and 1815, the countries engaged in 31 wars. The 19th Century saw them compete for colonies. They have been allied since signing the Entente Cordiale. But there has been some violence since: the Attack on Mers-el-Kébir in 1940 saw the Royal Navy sink French ships to avoid them falling into Nazi hands. 1,279 Frenchmen died in the attack.
- What do we not know?
- There remains debate about the reasons for France and England’s particularly tumultuous relationship. A geopolitical perspective holds that conflict was inevitable due to the county’s close proximity and similar sizes, as the two fought to hold regional, and later trans-Atlantic, dominance. Others regard the country’s various wars as contingent on specific issues, whether medieval disputes over land ownership, post-Reformation religious differences or British fear of the French Revolution.
- Roast beef
- Rosbif is a comic French term for an Englishman, which derived from 18th-Century French perceptions on the English diet. In his 1748 painting The Gate of Calais, the artist William Hogarth shows malnourished French soldiers hunger after a huge side of English beef.
- A hymn composed to Hubert Parry in 1916, which is set to music verse by the Romantic poet William Blake. Although Blake’s poem criticised England, the song has become popular as an unofficial national anthem.
- Entente cordiale
- The Cordial Agreement, an alliance signed in 1904 between Britain and France to oppose German expansion.
- War of the Whelks
- Between 1958 and 1976, Britain and Iceland engaged in a trio of disputes over fishing rights, which became known as the Cod Wars. Iceland won every time.
- Battle of Waterloo
- On June 18, 1815, a British-led coalition defeated the French Army under Napoleon Bonaparte in Waterloo, present-day Belgium. It marked the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1803 — 1815), which reshaped the map of Europe.
- Turn off the lights
- Over 95% of Jersey’s electricity is provided by underwater cables from France.
- Jet-powered hover-boards
- As of 2019, the French Army had invested $1.5m to develop these vehicles. A prototype was unveiled at that year’s Bastille Day celebration.
- War with Germany
- France has fought German nations through its history. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870, which saw France lose some of its eastern regions, caused a wave of anti-German sentiment in the country.