Leading Article:Of blood ties and turbot

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There were signs yesterday of peace breaking out in the turbot war. Which is a great shame if you are an admirer of the increasingly strident campaigns being waged by the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph. What they had accomplished on behalf of Private Clegg they have sought to repeat for the sake of that plucky ally, Canada. They will be hoping that hostilities are soon resumed.

The Mail devoted a page to a "cut-out- and-keep guide" to the forthcoming Spanish-Canadian war. Under a token ("I back Canada's fishermen") to be sent to Agriculture Minister William Waldegrave, a headline invited readers to spot the difference between Canada and Spain. "Canadians are our cousins: we have blood ties as well as those of history, language and race," it said. Whereas "we have nothing in common with the Spanish, who are descended from Iberians, who came from North Africa". Get it? A touch of the tar- brush in old Pedro's lineage, nudge, nudge. Something of a shock, too, to our new cousins, the Inuit and Mohawks, but ... welcome aboard!

The Telegraph's approach is more decorous. Its adulation of Canada is slightly muted (doubtless it realises, unlike the Mail, just how many Frenchmen there are over there), but its hostility towards Spain is as great. The Spaniards are apparently pirates, rule-breakers and cheats. But behind the mustachioed don is the Telegraph's true target. "Spain's indifference to the rule of law yet again raises doubts over cohabitation within the EU with nations in which corruption and disregard for honesty and justice are institutionalised," thunders the DT.

Little surprise then to find that great Labour internationalist, Peter Shore, writing to the Telegraph thus: " The real question is where Britain's loyalties lie: with the EU ... or with Canada, to whom we are intimately bound by ties of history, language, people and common endeavour".

Peter Shore, of course, gives the game away. The issue is not fish. British nationalists care as much for turbot stocks as they did for cod, back in the days when Iceland was doing to us what the Canadians are now doing to the Spaniards. This is about Europe. The country's threepenny patriots, kith-and-kin merchants and black dog chauvinists have seized the chance to hop on the bandwagon of the great halibut war, garnering support from a Britain where sentiment about our former colonies still exerts a tug.

Indeed, there is nothing wrong with liking the Canadians. Someone has got to, since they do not much like themselves. There is also little amiss with criticising the Spaniards, when and if they fail to abide by the rules. But we must beware of those who will use these sympathies to try and persuade us to join them, marching backwards with eyes resolutely fixed upon the past.