The government’s fishing minister has warned the EU that the UK has taken “sufficient” steps to protect its waters after Brexit, as fears grow of a French blockade.
The Royal Navy boasts three extra vessels, the Home Office will provide a further four and the government can call in help from the private sector, George Eustice said.
A new control centre has been launched, 50 extra fishery protection officers have been recruited and there will be “aerial surveillance”, a House of Lords inquiry was told.
“We have significantly increased our enforcement capability,” Mr Eustice said, adding: “We think that is sufficient.”
The extra muscle was set out after the controversy of access for EU boats emerged as key dispute in the post-Brexit trade talks, with Brussels demanding an agreement by the end of June.
Ministers have reportedly been told of a “nightmare” scenario, where French fishermen blockade ports and paralyse cross-Channel trade at the end of the year.
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Officials are worried that Calais is uniquely vulnerable to even a small-scale protest against attempts to restrict the access of EU fishing fleets to UK waters.
Last week, Amélie de Montchalin, France’s Europe minister, warned that, without a deal, fishing could become a “very nasty battle” and could collapse the entire trade deal.
Emmanuel Macron, the French president, is believed to have warned other EU leaders that a failure to retain access to UK waters would trigger further street protests and civil unrest in his country.
Speaking to the Lords EU environment sub-committee, Mr Eustice said enforcement capacity has been boosted five-fold, in line with fears, last year, of a no-deal Brexit.
The planned decommissioning of older vessels had been shelved and more staff given training to board vessels, with “warranted” powers.
Neil Hornby, director of marine and fisheries at the department of the environment, food and rural affairs (Defra), said Border Force vessels could be brought in if necessary.
Mr Eustice also sought to dismiss fears that the entire trade deal could be lost over the fishing dispute, suggesting EU countries without fishing fleets in the North Sea would not allow it.
But Lord Teverson, a Liberal Democrat former MEP, told the minister he needed to “get real”, saying there was “not a snowball’s chance in hell” that the EU won’t tie fisheries access to trade.