Sunday 22 April 2018

UK 'ready to go to war' to defend Gibraltar in new row over Brexit

Fabian Picardo, chief minister of Gibraltar. Photo: PA
Fabian Picardo, chief minister of Gibraltar. Photo: PA

Steve Swinford

Britain is ready to go to war to defend the sovereignty of Gibraltar, the UK defence secretary has suggested, as he vowed to go "all the way" to protect the territory in a row related to Brexit.

Michael Fallon insisted Britain would "look after" Gibraltar, adding that the people of the peninsula had made it "very clear" that they did not want to live under Spanish rule.

It came as former Conservative leader Michael Howard said that Theresa May would show the "same resolve" over Gibraltar as Margaret Thatcher did over the Falklands.

The British prime minister yesterday told Fabian Picardo, chief minister of Gibraltar, that the UK would never allow Spain to take over the Rock against the will of its people.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "The prime minister said we will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes, nor will we ever enter into a process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content."

The row erupted after the EU put the future of Gibraltar at stake in Brexit negotiations by effectively backing Spain in its long-running dispute with the UK over the British territory.

The EU's draft Brexit negotiating guidelines appear to hand Spain an effective veto over whether an eventual deal will apply to Gibraltar.

The move prompted fury in the UK, where ministers described the move as "utterly unacceptable".

Mr Picardo (inset) accused Spain of trying to "manipulate" Brexit negotiations in a bid to make a claim on the Rock.

Mr Fallon told the BBC: "Gibraltar is going to be protected all the way because the sovereignty of Gibraltar cannot be changed without the agreement of the people of Gibraltar and they have made it very clear they do not want to live under Spanish rule.

"It is interesting in the draft guidelines from the EU that Spain is not saying that the whole thing is subject to the transfer of sovereignty."

Mr Howard drew comparisons with the invasion of the Falkland Islands by Argentina, highlighting yesterday's 35th anniversary of the start of the war. He told Sky News: "There is no question whatever that our government will stand by Gibraltar.

"Thirty-five years ago this week, another woman prime minister sent a task force half way across the world to defend the freedom of another small group of British people against another Spanish-speaking country. I am absolutely certain our current prime minister will show the same resolve."

Asked if he was "seriously suggesting" war with Spain, Mr Howard told Channel 4 News: "Of course not."

But the senior Tory blamed the EU and added: "I can see no harm in reminding them what kind of people we are".

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