Author: HARRY COOPER AND CHARLIE COOPER
Senior British politicians stoked a war of words with Spain over Gibraltar, as a former leader of the U.K. Conservative Party suggested London would use force to defend the disputed territory in the event of Spanish aggression.
The spat was triggered by the inclusion of a clause in the EU Council’s draft Brexit guidelines released Friday that would oblige the U.K. and Spain to come to a separate agreement about the status of Gibraltar — a small territory of 30,000 people on Spain’s southern coast — once Britain has left the bloc.
Over the weekend, British politicians rejected calls for any sharing of sovereignty between London and Madrid, with one former leader of the Conservative Party comparing the situation to the Falklands conflict in 1982 that saw the British military deployed by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher against Argentinian forces.
“Thirty-five years ago this week, another woman PM sent a task force halfway across the world to defend the freedom of another small group of British people against another Spanish-speaking country,” said Michael Howard, who led the Conservatives between 2003 and 2005. “I’m absolutely certain that our current prime minister would show the same resolve in standing by the people of Gibraltar.”
His comments were echoed by the U.K.’s defense minister, Michael Fallon, who said London would go “all the way” to keep Gibraltar in British hands, and Boris Johnson, foreign minister, describing the government’s support as “implacable and rock-like.”
Gibraltar has been in British hands since 1704, with Spain formally ceding it to the U.K. in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht. Since 1946, it has been on a U.N. list of “non-self-governing territories.” Even so, Spain has long contested the legal basis of the U.K.’s claims to the territory.
Fabian Picardo, Gibraltar’s chief minister, said that living under Spanish rule would be “absolutely awful.”
“The U.K. goes to war over the principle of consent around the world and the people of Gibraltar have expressed their views to what they think the sovereignty of Gibraltar should be, democratically and freely,” he said.
EU foreign ministers, including that of the U.K., are set to meet in Luxembourg on Monday.