Foreign Office defends navy for ordering Spanish warship out of Gibraltar waters

  • Foreign Office defends navy for ordering Spanish warship out of Gibraltar waters

Foreign Office defends navy for ordering Spanish warship out of Gibraltar waters

The Spanish naval incursion follows the country's foreign minister Alfonso Dastis telling the United Kingdom to calm down after former Tory leader Lord Howard suggested Prime Minister Theresa May might be ready to go to war to keep Gibraltar British.

After an European Union document suggested that Spain would be given a say on post-Brexit agreements governing the Rock, Tory peer Lord Howard said he was certain that the Prime Minister would be ready to defend the Rock as Margaret Thatcher did the Falklands.

The official Gibraltar account on Twitter said that the Spanish Naval patrol ship, Infanta Cristina, made an "illegal incursion into British#Gibraltar territorial waters".

The latest spat arose from the EU's Brexit negotiating guidelines which leave Britain and Spain to thrash out what agreements will apply to Gibraltar.

On Sunday a former British minister, Michael Howard, suggested Britain would be ready to go to war with Spain to defend the outpost-a display of saber-rattling that evoked memories of the 1982 war with Argentina over the Falklands.

British Prime Minister Theresa May triggered the formal divorce process last week, nine months after Britons voted in a referendum to leave the EU.

London has insisted that Gibraltar is "not for sale", vowing it would protect the overseas territory after Brexit.

Gibraltar has been in British hands since 1713 and the Treaty of Utrecht.

It is believed the EU's stance came about after intense lobbying by diplomats from Spain, which has claimed Gibraltar since British troops seized it in 1704.

But the citizens of Gibraltar have overwhelmingly voted to remain British in referendums in 1967 and 2002.

In response to the strong reactions, Spain's Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said his government "is a little surprised by the tone of comments coming out of Britain, a country known for its composure".

This week the Gibraltar government said it had been "shamefully singled out" for unfair treatment by European Union chiefs at the urging of Spain.

While the FCO language was reasonably robust in describing it as an unlawful incursion, United Kingdom diplomats have been generally relaxed about such incidents, not seeing them as a threat that undermines the UK's legal claim of British sovereignty over Gibraltar.