Four Royal Navy patrol boats will be ready from 1 January to help the UK protect its fishing waters in the event of a no-deal Brexit, in a deployment that evokes memories of the ‘cod wars’ in the decade. 1970.
the Armored vessels of 80 meters in length it would have the power to detain, inspect and seize all EU fishing vessels operating within the UK’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which can extend 200 miles offshore.
Naval sources said the deployment had been planned for a long time, but comes after Conservative ministers quietly doubled the total fleet of patrol boats from four to eight, in part in the event of a crisis caused by a no-deal Brexit. “We have worked hard to make sure that we are prepared for any eventuality,” said a source.
Although patrol boats on the high seas carry machine guns, they would not be expected to use weapons against EU fishing vessels. Instead, they would aim to run alongside a boat that is believed to be breaking the rules, and board it for inspection if deemed necessary.
In extreme cases, an EU ship could be confiscated and taken to the nearest British port. “No one is going to fire warning shots at French fishermen; firearms are only used when there is danger of death, “said the naval source.
During the “cod wars” between British and Icelandic trawlers in the early 1970s, fishing nets were cut off and boats on both sides were regularly rammed. In a handful of incidents, shots were fired.
Fishing remains one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the tortuous trade negotiations between the EU and the UK. The complex economic argument about quotas, time scales and the length of an industry-specific transition period has put Britain at odds with France.
Without a deal, EU vessels would be banned from fishing in the UK’s EEZ, although it would also mean UK fishing vessels would be barred from the waters of nearby EU member states.
This week, the EU proposed a one-year extension of the transition period for fisheries to allow a deal to be negotiated, highlighting the importance of the crisis.
Speaking at the end of Friday’s meeting of the European Council of EU Leaders, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said: “We understand that the UK aspires to control its waters. The UK must, on the other hand, understand the legitimate expectations of the EU fishing fleets based on decades and sometimes centuries of access ”.
European and British boats have long been fishing in each other’s waters; today EU trawlers take around 60% of the catch from the UK area. A large part of the catch is mackerel and herring, which are not popular in Britain and are therefore exported, while fish that are popular in the UK, such as cod, are generally imported.
It is unclear how effectively the navy can patrol the EEZ in practice (it can use satellite surveillance to help locate EU fishing vessels) and how aggressively the UK government will want to act against French and foreign vessels. other EU member states when dealing with the EU are so delicate.
Fisheries patrol vessels have long operated in UK waters, but a no-deal Brexit would have a significant impact on the tasks their crews are expected to perform. Two of the patrol boats, of the navy river class, will be at sea at the beginning of the year, while another two will be in port ready to deploy a few hours in advance, initially in English waters, because fishing remains a decentralized . matters, but they are available throughout the UK. In theory, other warships could be used if Boris Johnson wanted them to be used.
Chris Parry, a former rear admiral and former president of the Marine Management Organization, said ministers must act firmly. “I would try to give an example and take a [EU fishing] boat or two in Harwich or Hastings. Once you had them confiscated, others would not be so willing to transgress without insurance. “
But Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the select defense committee, said he was concerned that the navy was overloaded at a time when Russian submarines were increasingly operating in the UK. “Our adversaries will be smiling as the largest European armies battle each other over the fish.”
A spokesman for the Defense Ministry said: “The Defense Ministry has carried out extensive planning and preparation to ensure that the defense is ready for a variety of scenarios by the end of the transition period.”
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