(Reuters) – Four Royal Navy patrol ships will be ready on Jan. 1 to help protect Britain’s fishing waters in the event the Brexit transition period ends without a deal on future ties with the European Union, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) said.
There are concerns about possible skirmishes between British and foreign fishing vessels if no trade deal is reached, with existing transitional rules that give EU boats access to British waters set to expire at the end of the year.
“The MOD has conducted extensive planning and preparation to ensure that Defence is ready for a range of scenarios at the end of the Transition Period,” an MOD spokesman said.
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The 80-metre-long navy vessels will have the power to stop, check and impound all EU fishing boats operating within Britain’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which can extend 200 miles (320 km) from shore.
The Guardian newspaper reported earlier that two vessels will be deployed at sea with two on standby in case EU fishing boats enter the EEZ.
Tobias Ellwood, a Conservative Party lawmaker who chairs the UK parliament’s defence select committee, was critical of the development.
“We’re just facing the prospect of… our overstretched Royal Navy squaring up to a close NATO ally over fishing vessel rights,” he told BBC radio.
“Our adversaries must be really enjoying this,” he said.
A French minister said on Thursday that France would compensate its fishermen and take other measures to help them if talks on a trade deal collapse, in an effort to avoid clashes at sea.
Britain quit the EU in January but remains an informal member until Dec. 31 – the end of a transition period during which it has remained in the EU single market and customs union.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday it was now unlikely a trade deal would be agreed.