UK readies navy to patrol fishing waters if Brexit talks fail

Four 80-metre gunboats on standby to guard waters from EU fishing vessels

The P&O ferry port of Larne, Northern Ireland, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, situated north of Belfast handling freight and travel for the two hour crossing of the Irish Sea between Scotland and Northern Ireland.  According to news reports, the port is widely expected to build new border customs control posts as a result of Britain's Brexit split with Europe. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

Britain has put gunboats on standby to patrol its fishing waters in the event of a no-deal Brexit, an increasingly likely scenario as talks with the EU approach a point of no return.

Four 80-metre Royal Navy boats were readied on Saturday to guard British waters from EU fishing vessels if negotiations over a free trade deal are abandoned on Sunday, weeks before the UK leaves the bloc's single market and customs union.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already gave a warning the talks are "very, very likely" to fail. Little ground has been made over fishing rights in British waters – a highly controversial issue – and rules to govern fair competition.

The news was criticised by Tobias Ellwood, a former British army captain and now chairman of parliament's defence committee.

"We're facing the prospect of our overstretched Royal Navy squaring up to a close Nato ally over fishing rights," he told BBC radio.

"This isn't the Elizabethan times any more. It's Global Britain.

"We need to be building alliances not breaking them apart."

French MEP Pierre Karleskind, the chairman of the European Parliament's Committee on Fisheries, called for calm.
"Let's keep cool. Let's keep calm. You're saying it's about fish but let's think just a few seconds. Do you really think it's only about fish that navy ships are used and will be used? I don't think so."

Alan West, Britain's most senior naval officer from 2002 to 2006, said it was a sensible move in the event that tensions surge.

"It's absolutely appropriate that the Royal Navy should protect our waters if the position is we're a sovereign state and the government says we don't want any other nations' fishing boats there," he told BBC radio.

If a deal cannot be agreed, it would mean Britain would revert to World Trade Organisation terms with the EU – its largest trading partner.

This would mean tariffs and quotas and the reintroduction of border checks for the first time in decades.