Britain urged not to "lose tempers" over Gibraltar

The UK defence minister has said Britain is prepared to go "all the way" to defend Gibraltar following Brexit

Britain urged not to "lose tempers" over Gibraltar

File photo, the marina in front of the Rock of Gibraltar, 20-08-2013. Image: Ben Birchall/PA Wire/PA Images

The Spanish foreign minister has urged the UK not to “lose tempers” over Gibraltar following inflammatory comments from a former leader of the Conservative Party.

In an interview with Sky News over the weekend, Michael Howard suggested the British Prime Minister could take inspiration from the Falklands War should Brexit negotiations threaten Britain’s hold over the territory off the south of Spain.

Spain has a long-standing territorial claim on Gibraltar, which has been classed as a British Overseas Territory since 1713.

The former Tory leader was speaking following the unveiling of EU Brexit negotiation guidelines which suggest Spain could have a veto over any future trade deal with the UK unless it gets an input into the territory's future following the divorce.

They also ensure that no future EU-Britain pact that affects Gibraltar can be made without Madrid's approval.

The Falklands War

On Sunday, Mr Howard said British policy should be to “stand by Gibraltar.”

“35 years ago this week another woman prime minister sent a task force half way across the world to protect another small group of British people against another Spanish-speaking country,” he said.

“And I’m absolutely clear that our current woman prime minister will show the same resolve in relation to Gibraltar as her predecessor did.”

It comes after UK Defence Minister said Michael Fallon said Britain would was prepared to go “all the way” to protect Britain's interests in Gibraltar.

He said the people living in the territory had made it “very clear” they had no wish to live under Spanish rule – although the territory voted to remain in the EU by a margin of 96%.

The British Prime Minister Theresa May has also insisted she remains “steadfastly committed” to the territory - adding that will “get the best possible outcome on Brexit" during the negotiations.

Speaking this morning, the British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the sovereignty of Gibraltar could not change without the agreement of both Britain and the population living in the territory:

Gibraltar’s chief minister accused the President of the European Council Donald Tusk of behaving like a "cuckolded husband who is taking it out on the children" for including the territory in negotiating guidelines.

Speaking today, Spain’s foreign minister Alfonso Dastis said he had been surprised by the tone of the response from the UK following the unveiling of the guidelines.

"The Spanish government is a little surprised by the tone of comments coming out of Britain, a country known for its composure," he said.

Spanish veto on Scotland

Over the weekend, Mr Dastis also softened Spain’s opposition to the prospect of an independent Scotland joining the EU.

Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon has written to the British Prime Minister demanding permission to hold a second independence referendum after the Scottish Parliament voted in favour of the idea.

Spain has traditionally been against Scottish independence due to the secessionist movement in Catalonia.

In an interview with El Pais in Spain Mr Dastis insisted the two movements are not comparable - adding that Spain would not block Scotland’s entry to the EU should a referendum be successful.

He said Scotland would have to leave the EU with Britain and then reapply for membership after achieving independence.

Sabre rattling

The "sabre-rattling" from Westminster has come in for considerable criticism in Britain over the weekend.

The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron said it was "unbelievable" that within a week of triggering Article 50, "there are Conservatives already discussing potential wars with our European neighbours."

"Brexiteers have gone from cheering to sabre-rattling,” he said. “It is absolutely ludicrous."

Speaking on British radio, the former Labour Party foreign secretary Jack Straw said he did not see Gibraltar as being any kind of deal breaker in the negotiations.

"The idea of Britain going to war, or Spain going to war against Britain over Gibraltar is frankly absurd and reeks of 19th century jingoism,” he said.

Additional reporting from IRN ...