Back in 2016, right after Britain voted to leave the European Union, the leader of that campaign, future Prime Minister Boris Johnson, spoke glowingly about how Brexit would begin a new phase in the unwavering friendship between his country and its European allies.
But, fast forward five years, British and French warships are standing off against each other over a incredibly petty dispute about fish, and U.K. government officials are ridiculing French President Emmanuel Macron of exposing his “small dick energy” over the throwback conflict.
The minor standoff has been met with breathless coverage from some of the British press, with the Daily Mail producing wartime-style tactical maps of where the opposing ships have dropped anchor. It quotes one French fisherman at the scene as saying he was “ready to restage the Battle of Trafalgar,” the climactic Napoleonic battle between England and France.
But the reality isn’t quite as thrilling. A few dozen French fishing vessels blocked off a port in Jersey, the British-aligned island in the narrow body of water between Britain and France, the English Channel. The fish folk say their rights are being unfairly held back by new rules that were imposed after Britain left the EU, so they’re staging a peaceful protest.
However, two British Royal Navy ships were sent to the island to monitor the situation, and then they were joined by two French patrol vessels, causing a great deal of excitement among military history enthusiasts. It’s extremely unlikely the situation will escalate, but neither side will want to be seen to back down first, so it could go on for some time.
A French government source told BBC News that the situation is “currently calm and we hope that this will remain the case,” although France has reportedly threatened to cut off the island’s electricity supply if the situation isn’t soon resolved. Some footage showed men on the French fishing vessels setting off flares and ramming one U.K. boat.
The British government’s rhetoric is unlikely to calm tensions. An unnamed government source joked to The Sun tabloid newspaper: “At least when the Germans invaded [Jersey] in World War 2 they kept the lights on.” Another told Politico that Macron is displaying his “small dick energy.”
Official remarks are slightly more diplomatic, with a Downing Street spokesperson saying that Johnson has spoken to leaders on the island to reiterate “his unequivocal support for Jersey” and assure them that the Navy ships will remain in place “as a precautionary measure.”
According to The Guardian, Jersey’s government has confirmed that two of its ministers have agreed to speak to the protesters to hear out their demands, but the talks will take place on two separate boats with the two sides communicating by shouting at each other across the water.
A French member of the European Parliament, Stéphanie Yon-Courtin, attempted to calm the situation by appearing on BBC radio on Thursday. Yon-Courtin, who represents Macron’s En Marche! party, said: “We are not ready for war and that’s why we would like to discuss things.”
So, sorry, Napoleon obsessives—but it seems that naval conflict between Britain and France looks very much like it will stay back in the 1800s, no matter how angry either side gets about fish.