‘We will protect our fishermen’: Navy should be used to stop EU trawlers operating in UK waters, says Defence Secretary Ben Wallace
- MP defends plan to deploy four patrol boats if trade talks with the EU collapse
- He says fishermen have a right to be protected while they go about their work
- But critics say action is hostile… and French vow to block our ferries in revenge
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace last night waded into the row over using Navy ships to stop EU trawlers fishing in UK waters.
He defended the plans after the Mail revealed the Navy was preparing to deploy four patrol boats if trade talks collapse without an agreement on fishing rights.
Speaking on a visit to British troops in Estonia’s capital Tallinn, he said: ‘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.’
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace backs plan for Navy to patrol British waters in event of a No Deal Brexit
Mr Wallace reminded ‘our European friends’ that ‘whatever happens in negotiations, we must respect each other’s sovereign waters and indeed follow the rule of law and behave peacefully’.
He warned that the UK is ready for ‘whatever is the challenge on January 1’ after French fisherman vowed to blockade the Channel in the event of a No Deal Brexit.
The Defence Secretary, a former member of the Scots Guards, told the Daily Telegraph that Britain will ‘always have assets along the shore line of the United Kingdom to protect it’.
A total of 14,000 troops have been placed on standby over the festive period to help with a range of scenarios, including No Deal.
Mr Wallace said: ‘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.’
Gunboats could take to the Channel to stop French fishing fleets from working in UK territory
He pledged that the Government will still be ready even if the UK fails to agree a deal with the EU before the Brexit transition period finishes at the end of this month.
Insisting that ministers remained ‘incredibly prepared’ for such an outcome, he said ‘resilience’ was ‘second nature’ for the military.
Mr Wallace, who ordered Ministry of Defence officials and military personnel to prepare for worst-case scenarios months ago, said he was ‘confident we will be able to deal with all of them’.
Britain’s control of its waters after the transition period ends is one of the main sticking points that remain between the UK and the EU.
A row erupted over the weekend after it emerged that the UK was preparing to deploy warships in the Channel.
A 34-page ‘official sensitive’ document stated: ‘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.’
Four Royal Navy vessels would be deployed ‘when it gets feisty’, government sources said.
French fishermen claimed they would retaliate by blockading Dover and Calais.
Dimitri Rogoff, of Normandy’s regional fisheries committee, said: ‘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.’