Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has weighed in on the row over the British government’s readiness to resort to Navy patrol ships to prevent EU trawlers from fishing illegally in UK waters if a post-Brexit deal collapsed, writes The Telegraph.
“We will be there to make sure we protect our fishermen because they have the right and deserve to be protected... going about their lawful business,” said Wallace, speaking during a visit to British troops in Estonia's capital Tallinn.
As the Defence Secretary confirmed that Britain would “always have assets along the shore line of the United Kingdom to protect it”, he added:
“When it comes to a Brexit deal – whatever that is – it is no secret that we would use our military to help support in logistics or anything else as required by other departments. We only do things at the request of civilians. If they ask for help we will give it”.
Wallace also suggested that “European friends” ought to be aware that “whatever happens in negotiations, we must respect each other's sovereign waters and indeed follow the rule of law and behave peacefully”.
As negotiations on a post-Brexit trade deal have stalled after numerous unsuccessful rounds, hitting a number of critical hurdles, the likelihood that Britain might ‘crash’ out of the bloc without an agreement in place increased.
The UK Defence Secretary warned that as the year-end transition period deadline was fast approaching, Britain was ready for “whatever is the challenge on January 1”.
According to Wallace, even as UK-EU talks had been ongoing, “some months ago” he had ordered the Ministry of Defence to gear up for “worst case scenarios”.
“We are confident we will be able to deal with all of them,” he said.
Access to UK fishing waters for EU trawlers post-Brexit has become one of the more contentious issues on ongoing negotiations between the two camps, besides governance and the so-called level playing field.
As talks between delegations led by UK Brexit negotiator David Frost and his Brussels counterpart, Michel Barnier, floundered, forcing Prime Minister Boris Johnson and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to enter the fray, it was agreed that the sides should go the "extra mile" in a bid to secure a deal.
As things stand we are still very far apart on key issues. There’s still a deal to be done, but the most likely thing is that we've got to be ready for Australia terms on 1st January.— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) December 13, 2020
Go to https://t.co/gxJU2BeRs2 to get prepared. pic.twitter.com/o8DGPZQwiC
Nevertheless, the UK Prime Minister has given it to be understood that a no-deal Brexit was most likely.
Against the backdrop of growing uncertainty beyond the cut-off transition date of 31 December, a row erupted over the weekend after it emerged that the UK was preparing to deploy warships in the English Channel.
“EU and UK fishers could clash over the lost access to historic fishing grounds, and there could be a significant uplift in illegal fishing activities,” said a 34-page “official sensitive” document cited by the Daily Mail.
Government sources were quoted as confirming that four Royal Navy vessels would be deployed “when it gets feisty”, evoking memories of the “cod wars”. The tussle over fishing grounds off Iceland dragged out for almost 20 years until it was resolved in the mid-1970s.
In response to the reports that Royal Navy Police would be given the power to board and arrest French and other EU fishermen who illegally enter Britain’s waters in the event of a no-deal Brexit, French fishermen claimed they would retaliate by blockading Dover and Calais.
“If we are deprived of our fishing grounds, we will not watch the British supply the French market. There will therefore be blockages to ferries – since this mainly happens by ferries. On that, we are quite clear and determined,” Dimitri Rogoff, of Normandy's regional fisheries committee, was quoted as saying.
Brexit trade talks have been granted a reprieve after Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen agreed to extend negotiations on “major unresolved topics" beyond the earlier-set 13 December deadline to avert a No Deal.
An agreement shaping the relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union post-Brexit could be ratified as late as 31 December, the day the current Brexit transition period ends, wrote The Telegraph.