Senior Tories have expressed concern at news that the UK will use Royal Navy ships to keep foreign fisherman out of British waters after a no-deal Brexit.
Today is the deadline for talks between the EU and the British government to try to avoid the UK leaving the union without a trade deal in place. And while both sides are determined to see the talks through to the end, both sides have said they expect no-deal to be the final outcome.
The problem for moderate Tories in England is that the ministry of defence somehow contrived to release the news of the deployment of four ships whose job will be to keep EU fishing boats out of British waters in the Channel, the North Sea and the North Atlantic.
Tobias Ellwood, chair of the parliament’s defence select committee, described the news as “absolutely irresponsible,” saying it would damage Britain’s reputation with other countries.
“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,” he said. “Let’s get this deal, because economically, but most importantly, international reputation-wise this would be so damaging to Britain – it would be a retrograde step, a failure of statecraft.”
For former Conservative minister and EU Commissioner Chris Patten, the gunboat news is an illustration of the fact that UK prime minister Boris Johnson is on a “runaway train of English exceptionalism.”
“And all the things that Conservatives used to believe in – like standing up for the union, like not attacking our institutions, like the judges, like believing in international cooperation – seem to have gone out of the window.”
Meanwhile the brinkmanship being exercised by the UK, by pushing talks to a final deadline while apparently sacrificing all remaining goodwill to some maritime sabre-rattling, is leaving the country in limbo with only 18 days before the country crashes out of a union that has lasted almost half a century.
Writing in The Observer today, Adam Marshall, chair of the British Chambers of Commerce, said companies had still not been informed of the rules that would be in force from 1 January.
“Businesses need detailed answers, not vague letters, posters or television adverts,” he writes. “It is hard to believe that we still have to ask ministers for clarity on the nuts and bolts of trade – things like rules of origin, customs software, tariff codes, and much more besides – just a fortnight before the end of the transition period.”