Downing Street today confirmed it would not be sending a military taskforce to Gibraltar amid suggestions of war with Spain over the British territory.
The Prime Minster’s Official Spokesman repeatedly insisted the UK was “steadfast” in its support for the peninsula, after the EU revealed last week Spain could exclude Gibraltar from any post-Brexit trade deal.
Former Tory leader Lord Howard ratcheted up tensions with Spain yesterday when he compared the trade dispute to Argentina’s invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982.
The peer insisted Theresa May would “show the same resolve” to Gibraltar as Margaret Thatcher gave to the Falklands, prompting suggestions that the UK military could be deployed against Spain.
Speaking this morning, the PM’s spokesman was asked if the UK planned to send a “taskforce” to Gibraltar, in an echo of Thatcher’s maneuvers against Argentina.
“That isn’t going to happen,” he replied, before adding: “What we are going to do is protect the rights of Gibraltar and its sovereignty.”
The spokesman was repeatedly asked whether the Prime Minister agreed with Lord Howard’s comparison of Spain’s Brexit negotiating position to Argentina’s invasion of the South Atlantic islands.
He replied: “All Lord Howard was trying to establish was the resolve we will have to protect the rights of Gibraltar and its sovereignty.”
When asked if the Prime Minister wanted a “de-escalation” in rhetoric ahead of the Brexit negotiations, the spokesman said: “I could only refer you to what I’ve already said.
“Our position on Gibraltar and the rights of the people of Gibraltar hasn’t changed and we are very clear that we will continue to offer them full support.”
Brexit Secretary David Davis is in Spain today on a long-planned trip, but according to the Government he did raise the issue of Gibraltar with the country’s Foreign Affairs minister Alfonso Dastis this morning.
The PM’s spokesman said: “He echoed what the Prime Minister has already made clear in terms of our legal position around Gibraltar and the fact that we will be steadfast in our support for Gibraltar.
“The meetings as I understand it were very friendly and very constructive.”
While Downing Street was keen to repeat the Government’s support for Gibraltar, the PM’s spokesman would not be pushed on what action was being taken to remove Spain’s power to veto any Brexit deal applying to the peninsula.
The spokesman insisted the EU’s Brexit guidelines were still in a draft form, and the Government would “wait and see” what the remaining 27 EU countries decide are their negotiation goals at the end of April.