MICHAEL Russell has ruled out the use of force to protect Scottish fishing waters in the event of a no-deal Brexit, branding the idea of Royal Navy involvement “utterly insane”.

Urging a "very calm approach", he said this morning: “Nobody wishes nor will use force.”

The SNP Europe Secretary also said the prospect of a no-deal end to the Brexit transition period in January had made Scottish independence the “centre-stage issue”.

The UK Ministry of Defence confirmed this weekend that four Royal Navy patrol boats were on stand-by to protect UK fishing waters, drawing comparisons with the clashes between the UK and Iceland in the 1970s Cod Wars.

Former chief of naval staff Admiral Lord West said on Saturday: “It is absolutely appropriate that the Royal Navy should protect our waters if the position is that we are a sovereign state and our Government has said we don’t want other nations there.”

However Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, the chair of the Commons Defence Committee, said the threat of using Royal Navy gun boats to patrol UK waters in a no-deal was “irresponsible”.

On BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show today, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab stuck to the line that force may be needed in the event of a no-deal outcome to current trade talks, which have been extended into next week.

He said: “The bottom line is if we do leave on WTO terms we’ll be an independent coastal state. Of course we’re going to enforce our waters around fisheries and whatever else.”

But speaking to BBC Scotland’s Politics Scotland, Mr Russell slated that idea, and said force would not be used, although he also suggested that would ultimately be a police decision.  

He said: “The responsibility for supervising in [Scottish] waters lies with the Scottish Government and it’ll be exercised as it’s exercised now. I have to say that yesterday’s remarks - presumably fed by the Tory government to the press - were utterly insane.

“We have a very competent force that is in place, but we do not call upon the navy to do these matters, and any military intervention in Scotland in civil matters would require the consent of the Chief Constable [of Police Scotland].”

Asked if the Marine Scotland agency would use force to protect Scotish waters, Mr Russell said: “Nobody wishes nor will use force. Force has not been used by fishery protection vessels and is not used.

"What we need to do is to have a very calm approach to a crisis that has been created by the UK Government, that covers this, that covers food supply.”

Asked about the SNP’s plan to take an independent Scotland back into the EU and the “hated” Common Fisheries Policy, Mr Russell said: “Our solution is to remain in the EU and to negotiate in a way that actually gets the best for everybody.

“It’s not to create circumstances in which there will be so many difficulties you cannot sell a single item of fish to anybody else… circumstances in which, apparently, the navy is to be called in by the UK Government. I mean, that is what we are talking about this morning.

“This is insanity compared to where we were and what we could do, and what Scotland can do as an independent member of the EU, because that is now the centre stage issue.

“How on earth could we get away from this madness?”

Pressed on the SNP’s position on rejoining the Common Fisheries Policy, he said: “My position is ensure that Scotland does not face shortages of all goods, major trading losses, disruption to business, which is the result of Brexit, which we did not vote for.

“We did not vote for the circumstances in which we find ourselves now. 

“It has happened because we have a Government that is not thinking about Scotland. We now need to make sure we get a choice and Scotland chooses to be a normal member of the EU.”

Earlier on the programme, Scotland Office minister David Duguid said tariffs being imposed on goods after a no-deal Brexit was “not necessarily the end of the world”.

The Tory MP for Banff & Bucan said there would still be access to the EU market after Brexit in the event of no agreement being reached.

He said: “That’s not necessarily the end of the world.

"We talk about financial tariffs, we talk about non-tariff barriers, these are all the things we’re trying to avoid with a free trade agreement. We export from countries we don’t have free trade agreements with, on Australia terms for example, which is the expression often used. 

“It doesn’t stop exports, it doesn’t stop trade.”

He went on: “There is a lot of scaremongering going around, not least by the SNP and others, who would have us believe that the sky is going to fall down.”

However he was unable to guarantee there would not be food shortages after Brexit, attempting to downplay the prospect as “hypothetical”.

Mr Duguid said: “You may not get the shape of pasta you like, but there will not be the kind of shortages that I think has been reported.”

He added: “I’m always optimistic and I know the UK Government and our negotiators have been basically turning over every stone to try and get a deal.

“But we have to make a decision today and we are going to reach the end of the transition period at the end of this year so time is running very short on that.

“But that’s not to say that discussions won’t continue beyond the transition period.”

Mr Russell said tariffs would be “a disaster”, adding: “For Mr Duguid or anybody else to say these are irrelevant is nonsense. Tariffs on lamb, for example, a big issue in Scotland, would be 60 per cent. That’s not currency fluctuation, that’s disaster.”