The government has said there is “a lot of uncertainty” about the UK’s ability to patrol fishing waters in a no-deal Brexit, a memo has revealed.
The document was emailed by mistake to the BBC.
The memo said there are only 12 ships tasked to “monitor a space three times the size of the surface area of the UK”.
It was mistakenly sent to the BBC from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs while discussing media stories.
However, ministers maintain fishing security will be enforced after the UK leaves the European Union on October 31.
Prime minister Boris Johnson has vowed to leave the EU with or without a deal.
In a no-deal Brexit, the UK would become an independent coastal state and leave the Common Fisheries Policy, which dictates where countries can catch their fish and how much they can take.
The memo reads: “While our public position on this wider issue is already clear and widely communicated, in that post-Brexit we will be an independent coastal state with control of our waters, both policy and MoD (Ministry of Defence) have indicated we are not on an overly strong footing to get ahead of the potential claims that could arise from this story.
“At this stage, there is a lot of uncertainty about the sufficiency of enforcement in a no-deal because we have 12 vessels that need to monitor a space three times the size of the surface area of the UK.”
Admiral Lord West, a Labour peer and former First Sea Lord, told the BBC the email appeared to show the UK has “insufficient assets to patrol and look after our exclusive economic zone for fisheries and also our territorial seas”.
He added: “This will be thrown into stark relief if we should cease to have an agreement with the EU on fisheries.
“This is something a number of us have been saying for some time now but it has always been denied by Defra and the government.”
A spokesperson for the government said an internal email about the “veracity and details of media enquiries” had been “inadvertently sent outside of Defra”.
The spokesperson said: “Britain is leaving the EU on October 31 with or without a deal.
“We are confident that we will have the ships and the expertise we need to properly enforce security in UK waters.”