Nigel Farage and Bob Geldof’s rival EU referendum flotillas clash on the Thames

Ukip leaders fleet drenches rock stars boat blaring out The In Crowd as campaign stunt on EU fishing policy turns to mayhem

The Brexit battle took to the waves on Wednesday as Nigel Farage and Bob Geldof commandeered rival Thames cruiser boats for a campaign stunt about EU fishing policy that quickly turned to mayhem.

In what at times resembled a naval battle, rival leave and remain fleets skippered in spirit by the Ukip leader and the rock star fundraiser skirmished on the fast flowing river between Tower Bridge and the Palace of Westminster. Before it was over, Farages flotilla of angry trawlermen campaigning for leave had drenched Geldofs boat with hoses and angrily boarded it midstream to the dismay of the river authorities. Geldofs boat almost shredded the eardrums of those on Farages vessel with a high decibel blast of 60s pop music; Geldof called Farage a fraud and flicked him the V sign.

The campaigners clash on the Thames.

Ukip chartered Edwardian, a luxurious river cruiser, to support a dozen fishing boats from Brixham, Berwick, Ramsgate and Faversham, all calling for Brexit under the banner Fishing for Leave.

The stunt became a battle when Geldof on a large white pleasure boat, Sarpedon, chartered for a counter-demonstration, pulled alongside Farages vessel as the Ukip leader was telling TV cameras how the fishing industry was literally being destroyed as a result of EU membership.

Farage was stopped mid-flow as Geldofs ship blasted out at earsplitting volume Dobie Grays 1964 hit The In Crowd. On board with Geldof was Rachel Johnson, sister of the Brexit campaign leader, Boris Johnson. Geldof then harangued Farage, shouting through the PA system: Nigel, you are a fraud.

Leave campaigners tried to shout back shame on you, but were drowned out by the sonic assault. Farage stood at the prow of his boat with his back turned, alongside Kate Hoey, the Labour leave campaigner.

Brexit explained: the Guardian view

Leave campaign fishing vessels and rival remain inflatables weaved in and out of the mother ships in sometimes reckless manoeuvres, but it was a culture war as much as a naval one. Ukip MEP David Coburn declared Geldofs passengers looked like the nightclub crowd at Annabels, although they in fact included several Corbynista Momentum activists. Farages crew were mostly suited Ukip backers including the insurance millionaire Arron Banks and party aides snacking on prawn sandwiches and sipping white wine while the music to The Great Escape played in the background.

Boats in the anti-EU flotilla. Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Geldof yelled: Here are the facts about fishing. Britain makes more money than any other country in Europe from fishing. Two, Britain has the second largest quota for fishing in Europe after Denmark. Three, Britain has the third largest landings.

Farage strode across the deck of Edwardian and declared Geldof horrible, disgusting.

Its just insulting to these people, he said. Some of these lads have come from the north of Scotland, communities that have never been listened to, where we have seen tens of thousands of jobs lost and a way of life destroyed, and they come here to make their protest and be heard, and they get a multimillionaire laughing at them.

Remain and leave campaigners in rival boats. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA

Geldof angered the fishermen, too, who yelled from their boats that they could not make a living under EU quotas and were being forced to discard tonnes of catch.

Steve Easton, who fishes off the south coast, shouted angrily about French and Belgians going up and down six miles off Brighton and we cant.

One fishing boat came alongside Geldofs boat and drenched it with a hose. According to Bethany Pickering, a remain activist on board, Geldof told the fisherman to fuck off. Richard Eves, a fisherman from Leigh-on-Sea, decided to launch a boarding raid on Geldofs boat using his rusty trawler Wayward Lad.

We threatened to ram them first and then they let us on, he said afterwards. They shit themselves. I was angry.

A boat in the leave flotilla sprays water at remain campaigners including Bob Geldof. Photograph: James Gourley/Rex/Shutterstock

Eves climbed aboard in midstream with fellow fisherman Paul Marchant and confronted Geldof. I just felt that some of the things he was coming out with werent facts, said Marchant. He was just shaking his head. He said, Were not against you mate. But I said you can dress figures up to say anything you want. Thats why I wanted to go on there and explain to him my point of view.

Most of this happened in the waters close to Westminster Bridge, from where peers and MPs looked on from parliaments terraces as TV helicopters hovered overhead. Given the intensity of the battle, it was perhaps no surprise both sides had deserters. At the halfway point, Hoey asked to get off but was told she could not. On Geldofs boat, half a dozen leftwing remain activists disembarked because, according to Pickering who was among them, these fishermen were working-class people with genuine issues and we didnt think they should be erased by Bob Geldof.