The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has confirmed that four Royal Navy vessels are on standby to protect British waters including fisheries in the event of a no-deal Brexit when the transition period ends.
Four Offshore Patrol Vessels will be available to assist other Government departments where needed, the MOD said.
They added that additional personnel have also been embedded into the Joint Maritime Security Centre (JMSC) to assist with planning and coordination.
A spokesperson for the MOD said it has conducted “extensive planning and preparation” to make sure “Defence is ready” for various scenarios at the end of the transition period.
They said: “This preparation includes a standby package of 14,000 personnel to ensure that we are ready to support other Government departments and authorities over the winter period, including with the EU transition, COVID-19 and potential severe weather events.”
Former Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Lord West, said the Royal Navy should protect UK waters from foreign fishing vessels if asked to do so in a no-deal Brexit scenario.
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.”
However, the Chair of the Defence Select Committee called the threat of using Royal Navy gunboats to patrol British waters in case of a no-deal outcome “irresponsible”.
Tobias Ellwood told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “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.
“This isn’t Elizabethan times anymore, this is global Britain. We need to be raising the bar much higher than this.”
The Conservative MP added that “being ready for the worst-case scenario” and using the “final 48 hours to actually get a deal” are “two very different things”.
He said: “We need to be focusing on what is already in the bag – 98% of the deal is there, there are three or four outstanding issues.
“Important though they are, let’s park those for the future, let’s get this deal, because economically, but most importantly international reputationally, this would be so damaging to Britain – it would be a retrograde step, a failure of statecraft.”