FOUR Royal Navy boats are on standby to patrol UK fishing waters in the event of a No-Deal Brexit.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed the 80-metre vessels would guard British waters from EU trawlers in the event that there is no new agreement on fishing rights after December 31 when transitional arrangements end.

According to reports the gunboats are armed with machine guns and could be deployed to patrol both the English Channel and Irish Sea.

The confirmation comes as Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen warned on both sides of the Channel that a No-Deal outcome looked more likely than an agreement in the trade negotiations.

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Yesterday afternoon Mr Johnson met with senior minister Michael Gove, whose has responsibility for Brexit planning, and other officials to “take stock” of Government plans for a No-Deal exit.

Fishing has been one of the most contentious issues in the negotiations with the bloc, with France reportedly discontent with the UK’s proposals for reducing quotas for EU skippers and a short implementation period.

Reciprocal access to each other’s waters will end next year but the two sides are at odds over what will replace the current terms, which the UK fishing industry has long argued leaves them short-changed.

As an independent coastal state come January, Britain will have the right to decide who fishes within its rich exclusive economic zone (EEZ) for fishing, which extends for up to 200 miles.

According to The Times, the UK Government plans to beef-up patrol powers by bringing in legislation to allow the Navy to board foreign vessels and arrest fishermen amid fears of clashes in the English Channel if there is No Deal.

The Guardian reported that the four Royal Navy boats readied for fishing surveillance are river patrol vessels which are armed with machine guns – although the newspaper said there was no expectation shots would need to be fired.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said the deployment of the boats had been agreed as part of planning for the end of the transition period.

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A spokesman said: “The MoD has conducted extensive planning and preparation to ensure that defence is ready for a range of scenarios at the end of the transition period.

“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.”

The move is likely to be read in Brussels as a warning shot as negotiators knuckle down in a bid to secure an agreement this weekend after Johnson and Von der Leyen agreed a firm decision was needed on the talks by tomorrow.

Chief negotiators Michel Barnier and Lord Frost are set to talk throughout the weekend in Brussels.

Speaking to reporters on a visit to Blyth in Northumberland, Johnson said fishing and a so-called level playing field “ratchet” that would tie the UK to future EU standards were the two major stumbling blocks to a deal.

He said: “There is the whole issue of fish where we’ve got to be able to take back control of our waters. So there is a way to go – we’re hopeful that progress can be made.

“But I’ve got to tell, that from where I stand now, here in Blyth, it is looking very, very likely that we will have to go for a solution that I think would be wonderful for the UK, and we’d be able to do exactly what we want from January.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, using the Prime Minister’s own words from 2019 against him, told the Mirror that collapsing the negotiations with Brussels after promising to “get Brexit done” at the General Election would represent a “complete failure of statecraft”.