Gibraltar says Spanish patrol ship entered its waters

That hasn't played well with British politicians - and some are now publicly threatening actual war with Spain.

Howard's comments came after Michael Fallon had suggested Britain would be willing to "go all the way" to protect the 32,000 Gibraltarians who live in the British overseas territory at the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula.

Michael Howard, a former Tory leader and now a member of the House of Lords, said that the tussle over Gibraltar evoked the UK's war with Argentina in the South Atlantic over the Falkland Islands in 1982. The 10-week conflict, in which the British were ultimately victorious, left more than 900 dead.

Mrs May's spokesman said what Mr Howard "was trying to establish was the resolve that we will have to protect the rights of Gibraltar and its sovereignty".

'What we're doing with all European countries in the European Union is sitting down and talking to them, ' she said. "And that is not going to change", he said.

But on Monday, a spokesman for prime minister Theresa May made it clear she would not distance herself from the comments. Here's what's going on.

Successive Spanish governments have raised talk of reunification since the 1960s, but in 2002, residents of Gibraltar rejected a proposal to share the territory between the United Kingdom and Spain in a referendum. But Spain over the past decades has made it clear that it wants the enclave back.

Map of Gibraltar and Spain.

Spain has for centuries demanded a return of sovereignty over Gibraltar, which is located on its southern tip.

British soldiers fighting alongside the Dutch first captured the "Rock," as Gibraltar is known, in 1704, before sovereignty was formally ceded under the Treaty of Utrecht nine years later.

This was demonstrated in 2002, when nearly 99% of Gibraltarians chose to stay British, rejecting a referendum on shared sovereignty with Spain.

"At some stage, there'll have to be a negotiation between Gibraltar and Spain, that will be organised by the United Kingdom, but it certainly shouldn't have been upfront".

"The union will stick up for its members, and that means Spain now", a senior EU official told The Guardian.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson arrives for a Foreign Affairs meeting in Luxembourg on April 3 2017. Gibraltar residents overwhelming voted for the Remain side. Indeed, those fears seem to have been justified.

However she's believed to have phoned Gibraltarian chief minister Fabian Picardo to assure him of her support.

The Prime Minister, who flew to Jordan yesterday for the start of a trade mission to the Middle East, was asked directly by reporters travelling with her, if the United Kingdom would go to war with Spain.

He said: "The position of the Government is very, very clear; which is that the sovereignty of Gibraltar is unchanged and it is not going to change and can not conceivably change without the express support and consent of the people of Gibraltar and the United Kingdom, and that is not going change".

  • Carolyn Briggs