A Vote Leave pledge that Brexit would “protect” Gibraltar is being derided after diplomatic tensions with Spain spiked over the disputed territory following Article 50 being triggered.
The promise, made just 20 days before Brits voted in the EU referendum, resurfaced online as talk of a “war” to protect Gibraltar continued to spiral.
Vote Leave had pledged:
The promise made awkward reading after EU negotiators said Brexit could threaten Gibraltar’s future as a British Overseas Territory - giving Spain a veto on how any deal would apply to its disputed neighbour.
Talk of a “war” to protect Gibraltar then spiralled, when former Tory leader Michael (now Lord) Howard said Theresa May would defend it in the same way Margaret Thatcher held on to the Falklands: with force.
Vote Leave’s pledge was accused of being one in a line of problems posed by Brexit that had “unravelled”, as the reality of Britain’s departure from the EU set in.
Tory backbencher Anna Soubry and SNP MP John Nicholson were among the first to hit out at the promise.
Labour’s Chuka Umunna, Chair of Vote Leave Watch, also told The Huffington Post UK:
“10 months on from the referendum, it’s becoming hard to find a single promise Vote Leave actually kept. Every day that goes by shows how much they misled the British people - like promising £350 million a week for our NHS.
“Gibraltar’s success and prosperity depends on free trade and free movement of workers, which are two things that Brexit is putting at risk as the Government is intent on wrenching us out of the Single Market.
“No amount of absurd, counter productive sabre-rattling from Leavers like Michael Howard will make up for the damage they are doing to Gibraltar.”
Social media users also pitched in to suggest the pledge “hasn’t aged well”.
The Spanish Government has since been forced to intervene, urging Britons to calm down.
The country’s foreign minister Alsfonso Dasti said this morning: “It’s not the Spanish Government’s job to respond to each and every British politician past or present.
“In any case, the Spanish Government is a little surprised by the tone of comments regarding Gibraltar coming out of Britain, which is a country known for its composure.”
Downing Street was also forced to confirm it would not be deploying a military taskforce.
Britain and Spain have a troubled history over claims to sovereignty to Gibraltar, known as “the rock”, which is home to 30,000 people.
Though it is off southern Spain, it has been British for more than 300 years.
The residents, who are British citizens, voted by 96% to remain in the EU in last year’s referendum.
In its opening negotiating position on Brexit, the EU has said whatever deal is negotiated, it will not apply to Gibraltar without Spain’s agreement.
The document, sent out by European Council president Donald Tusk to the other 27 EU states, said: “After the UK leaves the union, no agreement between the EU and the UK may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without agreement between Spain and the UK.”
“The union will stick up for its members, and that means Spain now,” a senior EU official told The Guardian.