The British Ministry of Defense said four Royal Navy patrol ships will be ready on Jan 1 to help protect Britain’s fishing waters in the event of a post Brexit no deal.
There are concerns about possible skirmishes between British and foreign fishing vessels under that scenario because existing rules that give EU boats access to British waters will expire.
France on Saturday shrugged off the naval deployment plans. “Keep calm and carry on,” an official at the French presidential office said, using a British wartime slogan.
There are only two weeks remaining before the end of the transition period, at which point the UK automatically crashes out of the bloc without a trade deal.
Officials on Friday evening confirmed that the Royal Navy is set to deploy its four 80-metre River Class offshore patrol boats to stop French and other European fishing boats illegally entering British waters in the English Channel after a no-deal Brexit.
They would be deployed from January 1 to police the UK’s “exclusive economic zone” (EEZ), which stretches up to 200 nautical miles from the coastline.
The boats, which carry machine guns, would have the power to halt, inspect and impound any EU fishing boats illegally entering the area. The preparations reflect the fact that ministers are concerned about the potential for struggles between rival fishing fleets if EU boats are suddenly banned from entering Britain’s waters.
During the “cod wars” between British and Icelandic trawlers in the 1970s altercations broke out, with boats sometimes rammed and shots fired on occasions. At one point London deployed frigates to protect British fishing boats.
Fishing has been one of the final sticking points in the talks between London and Brussels. The EU, which is responsible for about 60% of the catch from UK waters, is reluctant to give up more than a small fraction of its fishing rights.
Under the plans to deploy four naval vessels, two would be at sea from the new year with two remaining in port at any time.