The news that four 80-metre Royal Navy gunships are on standby to guard British waters from EU trawlers in the event of a no-deal Brexit has been met with huge backlash, with a former Tory chairman accusing Boris Johnson of behaving like an “English nationalist”.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) have confirmed the move, amid further reports suggesting that military helicopter surveillance will be made available and that ministers are considering beefing-up Navy powers in legislation to authorise them to board and arrest fishermen found to be contravening post-Brexit rules.
Tobias Ellwood, Tory chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, called the threat of using Royal Navy gun boats to patrol UK waters in a no-deal outcome “irresponsible”.
“We’re facing the undignified prospect right now of our overstretched Royal Navy squaring up to a close Nato ally over fishing vessel rights when we are witnessing an increasing presence of Russian drone activity and subsurface activity – our adversaries must really be enjoying this blue on blue,” the former defence minister told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“This isn’t Elizabethan times anymore, this is global Britain – we need to be raising the bar much higher than this.”
Meanwhile former European commissioner Lord Patten accused the PM of behaving like an “English nationalist”.
The ex-Conservative Party chairman told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “What we’re seeing is Boris Johnson on this runaway train of English exceptionalism and heaven knows where it is going to take us in the end.
“I want the best for my country, I fear for what’s happening at the moment and I fear for our reputation around the world, I fear for what will happen economically.
“I hope that I’m wrong to feel so depressed about the outlook but I don’t think that Mr Johnson is a Conservative, I think he is an English nationalist.”
Predictably, the news of navy ships didn’t go down well on social media. “I see the easiest deal in history (the oven ready one)..has now reached the ‘gunships to guard our 🐟[fish]’ stage of negotiations.”
Another pointed to a widely-mocked tweet by Shrewsbury MP Daniel Kawczynski who stated: “In the event of no deal with [the] EU on Sunday we must receive absolute guarantee from Boris Johnson that British naval forces will be deployed from January 1 to prevent illegal French fishing in our waters” – contrasting this with a 2017 tweet in which Kawczynski said Britain would continue to be “at the forefront of guaranteeing security and peace in Europe” postt-Brexit.
“From ‘Brexit will improve your lives’ to ‘the Royal Navy will bomb the shit out of anybody who tries to take our fish fingers’”, tweeted writer James Felton, while others hailed the arrival of “Fish Wars” amid hundreds of derisory tweets mocking the news.
After a turbulent week of negotiations, Johnson warned that a no-deal Brexit was now “very, very likely”, despite months of promising an “oven-ready deal” prior to a breakdown in talks.
Teams in Brussels now have a matter of hours to smooth out major bumps in a trade agreement, with the deadline for talks set for Sunday.
The UK’s transition period out of the EU ends on December 31. If a deal is not struck then it will have to trade on World Trade Organisation terms from January.