Guy Verhofstadt blasted by Brexiteers over Royal Navy tweet – ‘Respect our waters!’
Brexit: Naval intervention over fishing backed by Lord West
Mr Verhofstadt took to Twitter after the Ministry of Defence confirmed that four 80-metre armed vessels have been placed on standby to guard British waters from EU trawlers if there is no new agreement on fishing rights after December 31 when the transition period ends. The Belgian MEP said: “Gunboats to protect fish! Is this really what people voted for? We are your allies and partners, not your enemies!”
But Brexiteers were quick to hit back at Mr Verhofstadt.
One blasted: “Then negotiate like allies & partners!”
Another commented: “If any EU fishing boat comes to steal our fish, yes it’s only right we protect our waters and fish stocks!!!”
A third demanded: “Respect our sovereign waters then.”
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Another fumed: “You don’t act like allies or partners. Give us an FTA that respects us as a sovereign country!”
A fifth said: “Yes, Guy. Our fish in our waters will be protected from EU illegal plundering.”
One more added: “You have never negotiated, you thought you could get it all your own way as you think is your right, you made a big mistake this time.”
But others agreed with Mr Verhofstadt, with one commenting: “Huge portions of the UK are with you on this!”
The decision to ready the Royal Navy comes as the UK and the EU are yet to reach a post-Brexit trade deal, with the two sides deadlocked over the issues of fishing rights and the so-called level playing field.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab insisted people would expect the Royal Navy to play a part in policing the UK’s territorial fishing waters if there is a no-deal Brexit.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, he said: “The Navy has always been involved in coastguard operations.
“I think if we leave the EU with no free trade deal – which we want, which we’re striving for – of course we’re going to exercise full control in the way I think people would expect over our fisheries.”
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Asked if the Royal Navy would be given extra powers to board foreign trawlers, Mr Raab said he did not think there would be “significant change” to the “granular operating rules” of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
Mr Raab added that the UK would enforce international rules in its waters in a “proportionate way” but argued it was “crazy” for France to be making “aggressive demands” when its fishermen would lose out if there was no agreement.
He said: “With the French this is crazy to end up without a free trade deal when they’re making such aggressive demands on fisheries.
“If we leave without a free trade deal, they will have zero assured access to our fisheries.”
Admiral Lord West, a former chief of naval staff, insisted the Royal Navy should protect British waters from foreign fishing vessels if asked to do so in a no-deal scenario.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Lord West said: “It is absolutely appropriate that the Royal Navy should protect our waters if the position is that we are a sovereign state and our Government has said we don’t want other nations there.
“It is absolutely appropriate for the navy to do as it is told by the Government.
“There are complications in that you can push vessels aside, you can cut their fishing tackle but boarding these foreign ships, they’ll need to pass probably a little thing through Parliament to give authority to board and get on them.
“There is no doubt if you are a fisherman who has fished for years there – they are, as our fishermen are, quite stormy people – and you get a bit of a punch-up and you might need some marines and things.”
But Tobias Ellwood, Conservative chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, branded the plan “irresponsible” and warned it would damage Britain’s international reputation.
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