Four Navy warships steam into the Channel in warning to French trawlers as Brexit deal comes into force

FOUR Navy warships have steamed into the Channel in a show of strength to French trawlers over new Brexit fishing rights.

A convoy of gunboats left Portsmouth hours before the Brexit deal came into force on New Year’s Eve.

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The offshore patrol vessels, armed with cannon and machine guns, are under orders to protect the UK’s sovereign fishing grounds. HMS Trent, a new £100million warship, led the flotilla followed by HMS Tyne, HMS Tamar and HMS Mersey.

All four River class vessels are assigned to fishery protection duties, historically known as the Cod Squad.

A fifth patrol ship, HMS Severn, is also in the Channel on exercises.

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.”

French and other EU boats may continue to fish in British waters — but a quarter of their quota will be transferred to the UK fleet over 5½ years.

A defence source said: “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.”

An MoD spokesman said: “As part of preplanned deployments, four Offshore Patrol Vessels yesterday departed from Portsmouth to carry out routine activity.”

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