Lord West warns of fishing ‘punch-ups’ as he backs plan for Navy to protect UK waters

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Retired Admiral Lord West said the Royal Navy should protect UK waters from foreign fishing vessels if asked to do so in a no deal Brexit scenario. The former navy chief’s comments come after it was revealed the Government has put four river patrol vessels on standby to guard against European trawlers entering UK territory if the trade talks with Brussels fail. Four Royal Navy patrol ships will be ready on January 1 to help protect Britain’s fishing waters in the event the Brexit transition period ends without a deal, the Ministry of Defence said.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Lord West said: “It is absolutely appropriate that the Royal Navy should protect our waters if the position is that we are a sovereign state and our Government has said we don’t want other nations there.

“It is absolutely appropriate for the navy to do as it is told by the Government.

“There are complications in that you can push vessels aside, you can cut their fishing tackle but boarding these foreign ships, they’ll need to pass probably a little thing through Parliament to give authority to board and get on them.

“There is no doubt if you are a fisherman who has fished for years there – they are, as our fishermen are, quite stormy people – and you get a bit of a punch-up and you might need some marines and things.”

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There are concerns about possible skirmishes between British and foreign fishing vessels if no trade deal is reached, with existing transitional rules that give EU boats access to British waters set to expire at the end of the year.

An MoD spokesperson said: “The MoD has conducted extensive planning and preparation to ensure that Defence is ready for a range of scenarios at the end of the transition period.”

The 80-metre-long navy vessels will have the power to stop, check and impound all EU fishing boats operating within Britain’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which can extend 200 miles (320 km) from shore.

Tobias Ellwood, a Conservative Party lawmaker who chairs the UK parliament’s defence select committee, was critical of the development.

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He told BBC News: “We’re just facing the prospect of our overstretched Royal Navy squaring up to a close NATO ally over fishing vessel rights.

“Our adversaries must be really enjoying this,” he said.

A French minister said on Thursday that France would compensate its fishermen and take other measures to help them if talks on a trade deal collapse, in an effort to avoid clashes at sea.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday it was now unlikely a trade deal would be agreed.


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French MEP Pierre Karleskind, chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries, has called for calm following reports the Royal Navy will be given the power to arrest French and other EU fishing crews illegally entering UK waters in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

He told Times Radio: “Let’s keep cool. Let’s keep calm. I was just looking at a history book.

“The creation of the French Royal Navy was done in 1294 in response to naval battles between French and English fishermen. So this is a long, long history between our two nations.

“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.

“I think there are other interests like the control of the border, especially the question of migrants.”

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