Royal Navy steps up Channel operations as military prepares to help stop French boats from blockading UK ports

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The Royal Navy and Royal Marines have been training to help break up French port blockades amid rising cross-Channel tensions over migration and fishing rights.

Last week, members of the military took part in “Exercise Joint Blockade”, which was designed to simulate a blockade of a port such as Guernsey by French fishermen.

Leading figures in France’s maritime industry have accused the UK and the Channel Islands of failing to give their boats proper access to British fishing waters, which they say is guaranteed in the Brexit deal.

In recent days fishermen have blockaded a number of French ports including St Malo and sought to stop UK-registered boats from picking up or dropping off their catch.

Royal Navy steps up Channel operations as military prepares to help stop French boats from blockading UK ports
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The British military is unable to intervene in these protests, because they cannot enter French waters without permission.

But if the fishing fleets switch their focus to the Channel Islands or even the English mainland, ministers and Border Force chiefs want to be able to stop them from disrupting normal trade.

The exercise last week took place in the waters near Weymouth in Dorset, and saw military personnel join border officers in small boats to test whether they could break up a blockade.

A Royal Navy spokesperson said: “The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is working with the Home Office to understand and agree potential requests for military support.

“The MoD routinely supports the Border Force and has provided specialist training, military planners, surveillance aircraft and accommodation in the past year.

“MoD ministers and officials continue to attend cross-Government meetings and will support civilian agencies wherever possible.”

The dispute over fishing has centred around 150 applications to fish in British waters, mostly around Jersey and Guernsey, which have not yet been approved because the UK and Channel Island authorities say the applicants cannot prove they have habitually worked in the area before Brexit.

Although a large majority of applications have been approved, most of those which are still pending belong to French fishermen operating small vessels who are seen are disproportionately politically influential.

The fisheries issue is one of the key outstanding disagreements between Westminster and Brussels over how to implement the post-Brexit trade deal.

The EU has set a deadline of the end of next week for a successful resolution, but UK Government ministers insist they are already honouring the Trade and Co-operation Agreement which came into effect at the start of this year.

The row flared up over the autumn when France threatened to retaliate officially against the UK by imposing extra checks on hauliers at its ports and potentially by disrupting the Channel Islands’ electricity supply, which comes entirely from France.

It has been exacerbated by tensions over migration, particularly after almost 30 people drowned in the Channel last week when their boat sank.

However, the Royal Navy is not expected to join the Border Force in patrolling Britain’s waters looking for migrant boats because it does not have the legal authority to pick up migrants and take them to the shore for processing.

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