In the hours leading up to the end of the Brexit transition period between the UK and EU on New Year’s Eve, a convoy of warships left Portsmouth and headed into the Channel. The offshore patrol vessels are armed with cannon and machine guns and are under strict orders to protect the UK’s sovereign fishing grounds. HMS Trent, the newly-launched £100million Royal Navy warship, led the group of vessels, followed by HMS Tyne, HMS Tamar and HMS Mersey.
The quartet of River class vessels are assigned to fishery protection duties.
Former Navy head Admiral Lord West of Spithead said: “It’s an act of deterrence.
“We are not trying to have a punch-up with foreign vessels.
“We are signalling that these are our waters and we are responsible for looking after them.”
A defence source told The Sun: “The plan was to have two offshore patrol vessels at sea and two in port and rotate them.
“But for day one of Brexit, the commanders wanted all four ships at sea as a show of resolve.”
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said: “As part of pre-planned deployments, four Offshore Patrol Vessels yesterday departed from Portsmouth to carry out routine activity.”
Last month, Nigel Farage claimed a French warship entered UK territorial waters on December 22, with the Brexit Party leader accusing Emmanuel Macron of “flexing his muscles”.
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His comments were accompanied by screenshots from marinetraffic.com purportedly showing the vessel travelling near the coast of Dover.
A French government source told Express.co.uk the warship in question, La Garonne, was monitoring military vessels headed for the Atlantic.
They explained the ship was in the downbound lane of the Strait of Dover, as is the norm based on international agreements.
This meant it was adjacent to UK territorial waters, whilst British vessels would be adjacent to French waters as they pass using the upbound lane.
The UK completed its full departure from the EU at the end of the 11-month transition period, which expired at 11pm on Thursday.
This came following several and often bitter months of negotiations between the two sides over a post-Brexit trade deal.
One of the major stumbling blocks during talks was the amount of access EU fishermen would receive after Brexit.
France had threatened to vote against any trade deal that did meet the Government’s red lines, particularly around fishing.
The new trade agreement states a quarter of EU fishermens’ quote will be transferred to the UK fleet over five-and-a-half years.