Working from home – How the spread of sheds threatens cities | Britain


ACROSS THE gardens of Britain, in cities and suburbs, people are building sheds. “We have never seen such an increase in orders,” says Paul Deary of the Garden Shed Company, whose family has been in the business for 35 years. “People have gone shed crazy.” The Timber Trade Federation reports that in October, the last month for which statistics are available, imports of softwood were 34% higher than a year earlier. With stocks running low, what wood is available is quickly snapped up.

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A garden shed used to be mostly a place to store a lawnmower, or, if it was on an allotment, a place to discuss brassica problems and “dole out the tea and Hobnobs whilst the rain falls outside,” in the words of Michael Rand, an expert allotment gardener. But the odd brain-worker (especially the irascible type) has long put it to more productive use. Roald Dahl and Dylan Thomas wrote in sheds. George Bernard Shaw had one in his Hertfordshire garden that rotated to face the sun.

The structures now being built are also often intended for work, although they are grander than the ones those pioneer shed-writers used. Green Retreats, which mostly builds garden offices but also garden gyms and the like, says that overall sales grew by 113% between 2019 and 2020. Larger, fancier structures with things like plastered walls are especially popular.

This has important implications for cities. Urban scholars like Richard Florida and Edward Glaeser (who spoke about the future of cities at Policy Exchange, a British think-tank, this week) are busy trying to work out whether the rise in home-working that has occurred during the covid-19 pandemic will endure when the virus ebbs. If it does, many service jobs in cities, from baristas to taxi drivers, will disappear. Public-transport systems will struggle. The value of city-centre property will tank.

The shed boom makes that outcome more likely. A white-collar worker who has tried to work from the kitchen table for the past nine months might be keen to return to the office. A worker who has an insulated garden shed with Wi-Fi will be less so. Joel Bird, who builds bespoke sheds, is certain that his clients envisage a long-term change in their working habits. “They don’t consider it to be temporary,” he says. “They’re spending too much money.”

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Online teaching – Second time round, schools are better at lockdown learning | Britain


AT ELEVEN O’CLOCK in the morning, a class of 15- and 16-year-olds at Harris Boys’ Academy East Dulwich in south London is grappling with one of the most confusing periods in British history. Their teacher has explained the plots that swirled around Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, and is creating impromptu quizzes on Microsoft Teams to check their knowledge. His pupils, who are working from home, all turn out to know that the Treaty of Edinburgh was signed in 1560. “Sir, come up with a harder question,” types one boy.

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In March last year, when the government told them to close for the first time, schools were taken by surprise. Some far-sighted teachers hastily handed out photocopied worksheets to keep their pupils busy, or sent them by email. But although many private schools delivered live online lessons during the first national lockdown, few state schools did. Millions of children drifted. In late May 34% of teachers told Teacher Tapp, a polling app, that at least half of their pupils appeared to be doing no work at all.

Teachers were equally surprised when schools were forced to close again on January 5th. Up until the last minute, the prime minister and his hapless education secretary, Gavin Williamson, were assuring them that they could stay open; primary schools were even told to reopen for just one day after the Christmas holidays before being ordered shut again. They will stay shut at least until mid-February, and probably for longer.

This time round they are coping with online teaching much better. Some are now so confident in their newfound digital techniques that they are beginning to think about how to keep using them even after they are allowed to open their gates.

The Sutton Trust, an education charity, finds that 54% of teachers are now holding live online lessons, up from just 4% last March. Although a live lesson is not necessarily better than setting tasks for children to work on in their own time, it breaks the monotony and keeps pupils engaged. They are responding well. Only 7% of teachers now believe that at least half of their pupils are doing no work. Parents say that nearly half of secondary-school-age children are putting in at least five hours a day—more than twice as many as last time around.

The Department for Education promised last spring that it would send laptops to all children who needed them. Many schools correctly surmised that the devices would not appear soon, and ordered their own. Ark, an academy chain with almost 29,000 pupils in mostly poor districts, has distributed 12,000 devices, less than half of them from the government. By the autumn many schools were sharpening online teaching. Although they were still open at that time, in areas with rampant covid-19 so many pupils were isolating at home that schools had to offer them something.

Nobody believes that online teaching is as good as the in-person kind. But Emma Turner, a former headteacher who now trains teachers at the Discovery Schools Academy Trust in Leicestershire, says that it has nonetheless forced teachers to adopt some good habits. Their explanations must be shorter and sharper. Knowing that some pupils are viewing their lessons on smartphones, they are learning not to clutter their slides with text—something that is usually undesirable whether you are teaching online or in-person. Ms Turner also thinks that the old-fashioned parents’ evening, when parents must leave work early and talk to teachers while squatting on tiny chairs, is due for an overhaul. Online meetings turn out to work well.

For the past few weeks, teachers in the most adept schools have been able to do something that they could not before. By setting online quizzes during lessons, they can discover instantly how many of their pupils have grasped a concept, and thus whether it is time to move on. That will end when classrooms reopen. But Matt Jones, the principal of Ark Globe Academy in London, thinks that more teachers will move to setting virtual homework. Rather than simply telling their students to read a text before the next class, they will set tests to make sure they do. Bluffing will become a little harder.

Editor’s note: Some of our covid-19 coverage is free for readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. For more stories and our pandemic tracker, see our hub

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Brexit and trade – Delays to fish and meat exports are not just teething problems | Britain


EARLY EVIDENCE of the economic damage from Britain’s thin trade deal with the EU has been more olfactory than visual. Rather than the spectacle of queues of trucks outside Dover or empty British supermarket shelves, Brexit has instead brought the stench of pork rotting in Rotterdam and shellfish going off in its pallets. The government blames “teething problems”, but the new arrangements pose a long-term threat to farmers and fishers who want to export to the EU.

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The Scottish fishing industry reckons it has lost around £1m ($1.4m) a day of sales so far in January. Border delays and disruption are an issue for any sort of firm involved in international trade but pose a particular problem for those moving fresh produce. “It’s incredibly grim at the moment,” says James Withers, the head of Scotland Food and Drink, a trade association. “We’ve gone from a seamless border to a slow and expensive one.”

Customs are part of the problem. Britain and the EU have agreed to tariff-free and quota-free trade but goods crossing the border need forms, which must be correctly filled. Transposing a 6 and 9 in a 15-digit code can lead to hours of delays; mistakes can be made by either the exporting firm or the receiving one. Add in inexperienced border staff and mostly new and untested IT systems, and there are multiple potential points of failure.

Food is now subject to sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) procedures to check it meets EU standards. According to industry bosses Britain has mostly waived such checks to ensure that supermarket shelves remained stocked, but the Europeans are enforcing the rules more rigorously. “Groupage” is a particular problem. A trailer loaded with a single type of good from a single firm needs only one customs declaration and one set of SPS checks. But multiple goods from multiple firms grouped together all need individual checks. That can take hours; meat can rot and shellfish go off.

About 40% of British meat shipments to the EU are usually subject to groupage, according to the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), an industry body. Shellfish-exporting firms are usually small, so groupage is common. The problems, says Duncan Buchanan, the Road Haulage Association’s policy director, is that the current EU rules on SPS are designed for dealing with containers of frozen lamb from New Zealand rather than for mixed loads of fresh produce.

Some of the wrinkles should be ironed out in the weeks and months ahead. Importers and exporters will get to grips with the new arrangements, customs officials will gain experience and IT bugs will be fixed. But firms will still be looking at extra costs of £20 to £150 per shipment from customs charges alone—enough to wipe out the profit margin for smaller exporters. Nick Allen of the BMPA says the new system is “convoluted, archaic and badly implemented” and worries that it will make lower-value exports unviable.

Some British fishing vessels have already started making the 72-hour round trip to land their catch in Denmark to get around the new customs frontier. If that continues, Britain’s processing firms will suffer. Meat traders warn that French supermarkets are talking of replacing British suppliers with their Spanish and eastern European peers. More trade friction will mean less trade.

For more coverage of matters relating to Brexit, visit our Brexit hub

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Britain, EU bicker over status of bloc’s ambassador


The UK and EU are in negotiations over the framework of the new diplomatic relationship after the transition period ended on December 31.

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The stand-off over status has been bubbling away since May but surfaced when Josep Borrell, the EU’s chief diplomat, wrote to the Government on the matter, the BBC reported. EU foreign ministers are expected to meet in Brussels on Monday.

The European Commission said its 143 delegations elsewhere in the world had a status equivalent to embassies under the Vienna Convention, which governs international diplomacy.

Donald Trump reversed a similar downgrade to the EU’s ambassador to the US in 2019 after criticism.

British sources denied the move was designed to create leverage in any UK-EU relations. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, said Britain would be “wise” to reconsider. “We are not an international organisation, we are a Union and the UK took part in the Union for more than 47 years,” he said.

A spokesman for the EU’s foreign affairs service said the UK was well aware of the EU’s status as it signed the Lisbon Treaty establishing the bloc’s diplomatic network. “Nothing has changed since the UK’s exit to justify any change in stance on the UK’s part,” he said.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “I am not going to pre-empt the outcome of those negotiations. The EU, its delegation and staff will receive the privileges and immunities necessary to enable them to carry out their work in the UK effectively.’

Tobias Ellwood, a senior Tory MP and chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, insisted the UK was “better than this”. He said: “This is simply petty.” Lindsay Croisdale-Appleby was yesterday made UK ambassador to the EU.

Telegraph, London

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Government – Britain’s civil service has weathered the Cummings revolution | Britain


DOMINIC CUMMINGS was the Robespierre of the Brexit revolution. Toppling EU rule was just the start; he saved his reign of terror for what he regarded as the true enemy. The permanent civil service, in his view, was an “idea for the history books”, run by underskilled, risk-averse officials who thwart the plans of elected ministers. He wanted to replace them with specialists who would transform Whitehall into a dynamic machine.

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During his tenure as Boris Johnson’s most senior aide, a slew of top civil servants were guillotined, among them Sir Mark Sedwill, the cabinet secretary, Sir Simon McDonald, the head of the foreign office, and Jonathan Slater, the permanent secretary at the Department for Education. Lurid briefings spouted from Downing Street: a “hard rain” would fall on Whitehall. Mr Cummings was said to keep a “shit list” of those he wanted out.

Mr Cummings met his Thermidor in November, and his reforms look less like creative destruction, more like idle vandalism. Some on his list have survived: Sir Tom Scholar, the permanent secretary of the Treasury, will have his contract extended when it comes up for renewal in July. Ousted mandarins have been replaced not by Silicon Valley whizzkids, but by a new generation of civil-service thoroughbreds: Simon Case, Sir Philip Barton, and Susan Acland-Hood. Ciaran Martin, the former head of the National Cyber Security Centre, a government agency, remarked that between the hostile rhetoric and the defenestrations, Mr Johnson’s government has thus far achieved “virtually nothing at all” by way of meaningful reform.

Along with the civil service, the media is one of the main constituents of “the blob” that revolutionaries fear swallows all attempts at radical reform. The planned war on the liberal media did not come to pass either. Charles Moore and Paul Dacre, former editors of right-wing newspapers, had been tipped to take charge of the BBC Board and Ofcom respectively. Neither happened. The BBC job went to Richard Sharp, a former banker.

Substantive reforms are under way, but they are orthodox ideas—many promoted by the Institute for Government, the mandarins’ favourite think-tank—which will strengthen the permanent civil service. Michael Gove, the cabinet office minister, would like the government to train graduates better, slow the merry-go-round of civil servants between departments and end the practice of hiring management consultants to do the most interesting projects. There are plans to move 22,000 civil servants out of London. Doing so will save money, but the idea is hardly radical: prime ministers from Harold Wilson to Theresa May have been promising to decant Whitehall staff to Leeds, Manchester and Swansea, and sometimes even doing it.

Old faces are back. Francis Maude, who oversaw civil-service reform under David Cameron, is advising Mr Gove on how to improve functions such as human resources. On January 12th, the day before admitting that food parcels delivered to poor children by a contractor were unacceptably meagre, Mr Johnson announced that Sir Michael Barber will review the delivery of government services. Sir Michael ran Tony Blair’s Delivery Unit for five years. After the revolution, the restoration.

Correction (January 15th 2020): The original version of this article referred to the BBC Trust, rather than the BBC Board. This has been corrected.

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Politics – What the Labour Party is learning from Joe Biden | Britain


THE LABOUR PARTY has long spied the future through a telescope across the Atlantic. New Labour was entranced by Bill Clinton’s New Democrats. Ed Miliband was a keen student of Barack Obama’s campaign. Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders were mutual admirers. American politics is more exciting than Europe’s these days, which is why Labour wonks can recite with greater ease the names of Democratic senators than the prime ministers of Europe, and their shelves heave with Robert Caro biographies and West Wing DVDs.

Yet the echoes of America in British politics are faint. British partisanship is less vociferous than America’s, and its cultural and racial rifts shallower. Although Boris Johnson is embarrassed by his dabbling with Trumpism (see article), he did not suggest bleach as a treatment for covid-19, nor incite an insurrection.

The most striking similarity is between the bind the Democrats found themselves in following the defeat of Hillary Clinton in 2016 and the crisis Labour faces after Jeremy Corbyn’s defeats in 2017 and 2019. Both saw their electorates split: their younger, more diverse, city-dwelling voters stayed loyal, while older, whiter voters in industrial towns drifted away. Labour’s woes in the so-called red wall were mirrored in Mrs Clinton’s loss of the rustbelt states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. The centrist Mr Biden’s success validates Labour’s decision to replace the radical Mr Corbyn with the moderate Sir Keir Starmer.

Sir Keir initially made big advances against the Tories, but insiders fret that he hasn’t opened up a clear lead despite the pandemic (see chart). His party is therefore keen for advice. Lisa Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary, is leading the outreach to the incoming administration.

Sir Keir’s circle sees the insecurity of lower-middle-class families, who “feel the world is spinning out of control”, as the root of Britain’s volatile politics. Mr Biden promised such voters “jobs, dignity, respect and community”. A key insight from Team Biden is that people who once voted for revolutionary change in the form of Donald Trump now hanker for stability. Like Mr Biden, Sir Keir has styled himself as a safe pair of hands, and a defender of the rule of law and Britain’s standing in the world. (Mr Biden’s slogan, “No Malarkey”, rather suits managerial Sir Keir.)

A speech by Sir Keir about “family first” policies reflected advice from John Anzalone, Mr Biden’s pollster, on how to win back working-class voters: faced with a rhetorician like Mr Johnson, a leader’s personal values carry more weight than eye-catching policies. Sir Keir’s speeches are heavy on moralism and light on plans. He now sits in front of a union flag for television interviews, and speaks of his admiration of the queen, the troops and the doggedness of the British people. (The elder-statesman routine is easier for Mr Biden, 78, who took his seat in the Senate around the time the Labour leader was sitting his 11-plus exam.) Sir Keir, like the president-elect, plays up his humble background. “My dad was a toolmaker; he spent his whole life on the factory floor,” he declared on January 11th.

There are also lessons in how Mr Biden navigated the issues of identity politics—trans rights, the Black Lives Matter movement—which span the Atlantic. As with the Democrats, such issues motivate party members, but can be met with indifference or suspicion by voters, especially older ones. Mr Biden’s solution was to embrace a socially-liberal agenda, couched in the language of love and respect, while being careful not to rebuke voters who weren’t on board, says Marcus Roberts, a pollster at YouGov who has worked for the Democrats and Labour.

Mr Biden’s campaign provides warnings too. Despite his ravings and his cataclysmic response to the pandemic, Mr Trump received 74m votes, 11m more than in 2016 and the highest cast for any presidential candidate bar Mr Biden. He increased his share among non-white voters, and remains dominant among men without a college education. Mr Johnson could equally advance in the red wall in 2024. Ejecting a prime minister with a majority of 87 is no easier than ousting a president after a single term. Mr Biden provides inspiration, but little comfort.

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Long covid – How the pressure is being felt in English hospitals | Britain


TO THOSE WHO receive them, vaccines offer fast protection, with effects kicking in just a few weeks afterwards. For health-care systems, though, the protection takes a little longer—as those working in English hospitals are now acutely aware.

In all 32,689 National Health Service beds are currently occupied by people with covid-19, 50% more than in last year’s peak. Modelling by the Covid-19 Actuaries Response Group suggests that because of the slow start to the roll-out, even if everything goes to plan, hospital admissions will not decline sharply until early February.

Intensive-care admissions will take still longer. The government has jabbed the oldest first. Yet the elderly tend not to end up in intensive-care units, because they don’t do well on ventilators (the average age of covid-19 patients on critical-care wards is a sprightly 60). Thus the actuaries think intensive-care admissions won’t drop much until the end of February.

The modelling is based on the assumption that cases will remain at current levels. That is not too far off what many in the health service are now expecting. Growth in cases seems to have halted, but the lockdown may not force a fast decline in infections, because of the increased transmissibility of the new variant.

The result will be a period of sustained pressure on hospitals. London’s and the south-east’s have so far borne the brunt of this wave. Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, a representative group, says he is worried about those in the north-west, which have patients in beds from the autumn, and the south-west, which has low capacity.

Politicians talk of the need to avoid “collapse”, implying a binary outcome where hospitals suddenly go from being able to provide care, to not. In reality there is a gradual ratcheting up of risk well in advance of such a moment. “It’s really important that nobody in the NHS should pretend that you will get the same quality of care or the same outcomes,” says Mr Hopson.

This can be seen in oxygen supplies. Since the first wave there has been a move to less-invasive breathing support, which requires lots of oxygen (as much as 60 litres a minute, compared with 15 for a ventilator). Piping—particularly in older institutions—is struggling, meaning some hospitals have reduced blood-oxygen targets to prevent systems from giving out. William Harrop-Griffiths of the Royal College of Anaesthetists says this is safe in itself, but leaves little wiggle room if, say, there is an interruption in the gas supply or if the patient’s lung function deteriorates.

It is a similar story in other areas of care. Some 6% of London’s ambulances are now delayed for longer than an hour, more than double the rate this time last year. Patient-to-staff ratios in critical care are rising, with reports suggesting three or four intensive-care patients to each specialist nurse in some places. That is lower than during the worst of the first wave, but well above the normal one-to-one ratio.

Efforts to free up capacity are getting increasingly unpleasant; ranging, in the capital, from booking hotel rooms for recuperating patients to cancelling cancer operations. The hope is that this will stop critical-care capacity being breached. Whether it works is still in the balance. Yet even if it does, it will come at a cost.

Editor’s note: Some of our covid-19 coverage is free for readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. For more stories and our pandemic tracker, see our hub

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Quick jabs – Britain’s vaccine roll-out gets off to a fast start | Britain


WHEN IT COMES to the race to get out the covid-19 vaccine, there is Israel, which has given out 23 doses for every 100 people, and then there is everywhere else. In second and third place, some way behind, sit the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which are relying on a jab without published data from late-stage trials (see article). Next is Britain, the speediest big country.

British medics were quick off the mark with early approvals for the Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccines, and the roll-out has recently sped up. On January 6th, 1.3m doses had been delivered. A week later, 3.1m had, a number equivalent to 4.5 doses per 100 people. Denmark, Britain’s nearest rival in Europe, has done 2.

Though fast, the pace still needs to accelerate further to meet the government’s target of offering everyone in a big group—which includes people over the age of 70 and front-line health- and social-care workers—a jab by the middle of February. To meet it, around 2.5m doses will have to go out each week. Ministers promise they will.

The roll-out is not without flaws. The government has provided little information on, for instance, who exactly has received jabs, although more is promised soon. Care-home vaccinations seem to be getting done more slowly than in other countries that got off to a quick start. And observers have raised concerns about the lack of ventilation in mass-vaccination centres, in which elderly and vulnerable people congregate.

These are serious problems. They are also ones most of Europe would love to have—which is not a position Britain has been in for most of the pandemic.

Editor’s note: Some of our covid-19 coverage is free for readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. For more stories and our pandemic tracker, see our hub

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Australian Open 2021 qualifying scores, winner Fran Jones, Great Britain, has eight fingers, seven toes


Francesca Jones wants her Australian Open “X Factor” story to be an inspiration for anyone dealing with health adversity.

When she was eight years old, the British ace was told by a doctor her unusual physical condition would prevent her becoming a tennis star.

The 20-year-old – who had a series of operations as a kid – was born with the rare genetic conditions of ectrodactyly ectodermal dysplasia. The British No. 5 has only three fingers and a thumb on each hand and has three toes on one foot and four toes on the other.

Yet remarkably she secured a place at next month’s Australian Open, thrashing China’s Lu Jiajing 6-0 6-1 in the final round of qualifying in Dubai.

“I try to use it as a positive and I see it as an advantage in many ways,” Jones said. “I don’t think I reached a low point with the syndrome. Of course, like any other tennis player, I’ve reached many low points in my life.

“You could say I proved the doctor wrong and I’m sure a good few other people as well. But you know what? I’m not bothered about proving people wrong, I’d rather prove to people you can switch the perspective there. I’m not playing out of revenge. I’m playing to have a positive impact for those who hopefully read my story.

“I’d love people to take strength from my story. I’ve got so much more that I want to achieve and this is very much the start of my journey.”

As she booked a first spot in a grand slam main draw, Jones joked: “It’s like I’ve had the phone call now from Simon Cowell – is he in California? – and I’m now going to Australia not London for the show.”

Fran was based at Andy Murray’s former training base, the Sanchez Casal Academy in Barcelona, between the ages of 9-16.

Jones flies to Australia on Friday to begin two weeks of quarantining.

Jones, who describes herself as a perfectionist, overcame a “wee mental breakdown” after experiencing racket issues and split fingers after travelling from the London cold to the Middle East for qualifying.

Her idol is British No. 1 and multiple slam semi-finalist Jo Konta, who she has watched closely during training at the NTC HQ.

“I’ve definitely had to work a lot more on my physicality,” Jones said. “My feet work in a different way and that means I run differently. My balance goes through my feet and toes in a different way. I’ve always had a really small grip and a light racket and I’m hesitant to change that.

“In the gym, I’ve spent a lot of time just trying to gain strength to support my muscles. Every human being has physical weaknesses – unless you’re Cristiano Ronaldo or something. I just try to better mine as I’d try to better myself in any other way.”

– The Sun

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Brexit – British fishermen have not escaped the Common Fisheries Policy | Britain


MANY PEOPLE were disappointed by the deal that Britain signed with the European Union on Christmas Eve, but fishermen were infuriated. “It’s the biggest con to be ever put on,” says John Clark, who catches fish and langoustines off the north-east coast of Scotland. “We have been completely betrayed—the prime minister bottled it.”

Leaving the EU’s single market was always going to be hard. Exporting fish now entails wrapping them in bureaucratic paper. And as far as catching fish goes, the deal fishermen have landed is worse than they expected. Ministers had promised them “hundreds of thousands of tonnes” more fish, and implied that Britain would get its own way in its territorial waters. Yet the deal is better than it could have been. And, oddly, it is better than it might have been if the fishermen had actually got what they wanted.

The expectation that they would do better than they did in the EU’s common fisheries policy (CFP) was not unreasonable. The CFP allocated catching rights around Europe in line with how countries were fishing in the mid-1970s. Unfortunately, many of Britain’s biggest fishing boats happened to be far away in those years, trawling the waters around Iceland, which had not yet banned foreign boats from its vicinity. Britain ended up with only a tenth of the quota for cod caught in the English Channel, for example.

The new deal is better, but only just. Over the next five years, EU fishing boats will give up a quarter of their quota rights in British waters. Domestic boats will be able to catch a larger share of mackerel (the single most valuable fish) and hake, although they will still be entitled to only a tenth of cod from the Channel. Fishermen thought they were going to be allocated exclusive rights over waters 12 miles from the coast, but they have got only six miles, the same as before. They will no longer be able to swap quotas with counterparts in other European countries.

What really annoys fishermen is that Britain will remain closely tied to the CFP. It will have to agree catch limits for every fish species with the EU, following guidance from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES), an international outfit based in Denmark. If the two sides cannot agree, ICES limits will be enforced. Although these arrangements lapse in 2026, Britain will probably remain bound to Europe for longer: clauses in the deal allow for broad retaliation if fishing talks break down. Barrie Deas, head of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, calls it “a colonial or neocolonial arrangement”.

Over the long term, though, what really matters is not how the fish around Britain are divided but how many fish there are. Decades of overfishing have denuded the ocean (see chart) and occasionally caused fish populations to collapse. In 2019 landings in Britain of demersal fish such as cod and haddock were only a fifth of the 1970 level. For years the CFP abetted this destruction. British and other European politicians would listen to scientists’ advice about sensible limits, then allow catches well in excess of them.

But the CFP has improved. It now works well in northern European waters—though not in the Mediterranean. Catches are broadly within sustainable limits; discarding fish is banned, in theory. Given the tendency of fish to swim around, it is good for British fishermen in the long run that the deal binds them to the EU and compels everyone to fish sustainably. “People are saying it’s just like the common fisheries policy—we haven’t really left,” says Bryce Stewart, who studies fishing policy at the University of York. “But that is the point.”

In theory, Britain could have become a freewheeling coastal state that heeded scientific advice and co-operated with its neighbours. But in practice it would probably have been a disaster. Iceland, Norway and the Faroe Islands hold sway over their waters, and periodically get into rows with the EU over fish quotas. When talks break down, as they did in 2010 over mackerel and in 2013 over herring, countries revert to setting their own quotas, which generally add up to well above the sustainable level.

As the ocean warms, fish are migrating, making it ever more likely that negotiations will break down. And if Britain had gained full control of its coastal waters it would have been more likely to end up feuding with the EU than Iceland, Norway or the Faroe Islands do, because of the dozens of commercially important fish species that swim the English Channel and the North Sea. Although they resent it, the tighter British fishermen are bound to the EU, the better for them.

This article appeared in the Britain section of the print edition under the headline “Coming up empty”

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