AS SURE as night follows day, after the Prime Minister’s belated suggestion that the Royal Navy prepare for fish wars in the Channel, Chris Patten weighs in with a rebuke. So too does the lacklustre (and, having watched his committee’s non-investigation of the Army’s combat vehicle procurement problems, ‘lacklustre’ is flattering) chairman of the Defence Select Committee, Tobias Ellwood. He has somehow decided that using the Royal Navy to defend British territorial waters would be ‘utterly irresponsible’. He wittered on: ‘This isn’t Elizabethan times any more, this is global Britain.’
Well, Tobias, the last time I checked, our monarch is Queen Elizabeth – as you should have noticed when you swore loyalty to her as an Army officer, and again as an MP when you swore to ‘be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.’ In the matter of Brexit and defence, the law sets the Prime Minister significantly above you. Moreover, if by ‘global Britain’ you mean our role as a force for international law, order and trade, please explain how not enforcing international maritime law helps. How would caving in at the first challenge enhance the standing of the newly sovereign United Kingdom?
You also state that the Royal Navy is overstretched – hardly news. But what have you, as the chairman of the relevant committee, done about it? Have you been to No 10 and pointed out to the Prime Minister that in the entirely predictable event of No Deal we may be short of a few boats? Have you demanded, like Pepys and Nelson, more frigates? Have you suggested to him that the £100billion he’s determined to spend in cutting the time to get from London to Birmingham could be more usefully employed defending the realm, protecting trade and projecting power? No. So you have failed. Feel free to resign.
Does anyone listen to Chris Patten, 76, ex-EU Commissioner, ex-chairman of the BBC Trust, ex-chairman of the Tory Party, last governor of Hong Kong and now Baron Patten of Barnes and Chancellor of Oxford University? He was a political nonentity, as wet as a mackerel and then he thrived in those centres of Europhilia. It was precisely him and his ilk who led to Brexit through their incompetent chumocracy and disdain for those who make the profits and pay the tax.
This process of preparation should have started in February – it might just have demonstrated to the EU that we British are serious about this. It would have reminded them that we take sovereignty seriously, as the last despots who tinkered with it, Galtieri and Co, found out the hard way. It’s only by demonstrating capability and resolve that one can deter – as true for the EU as it is for Russia, China and the rest of them.
The Prime Minister now needs to think through some scenarios. Cutting nets is high risk simply due to the physics involved in snapping a cable under tension and having several hundred tons of ship in close proximity at high speed. And that’s before a stroppy French fisherman starts getting aggressive with flares. Johnson needs to ensure that the French Ambassador is under no illusion that the case of any French warship impeding the Royal Navy in the enforcement of international maritime law will be very, very serious. At the same time he needs to assume that it will happen, and plan accordingly.
He should also ensure that the world (and the wet failures who style themselves ‘Tory grandees’) are well aware that this country voted to leave the EU, completely. He should remind them that we have been negotiating to achieve this amicably (which should have been possible) but that the political popinjay running France has sought to thwart this. He should remind them that these events remain avoidable if the French (and other EU fishermen) simply adhere to international law.
Johnson is going to have to learn, quickly, to stand and fight for a matter of principle. That would surprise and delight many Britons.