Making waves: Spanish ship off Gibraltar heightens UK tensions

He told the MailOnline: 'Spanish Patrol Boat P77 (Infanta Christina) this afternoon made an incursion into Gibraltar territorial waters and was challenged by the Royal Navy's HMS Scimitar.

Gibraltar is a strategic British territory located at the entrance of the Mediterranean Sea on the southern tip of Spain's Iberian Peninsula with an area of 6.7 square kilometers.

A former leader of PM Theresa May's Conservative party said she would even be prepared to go to war to defend the territory.

Gibraltar's Government claimed the Tuesday incident was the seventh incursion by a Spanish navy ship this year.

Gibraltar has a strong flavour of Britishness, with pubs named "The Gibraltar Arms" or as in this picture "The Horseshoe".

In a 2002 referendum, Gibraltarians rejected by 98 percent a proposal for joint British-Spanish sovereignty.

The Rock may have some difficulties in coming months during Brexit negotiations, as some jobs rely on the border being open between the British territory and the mainland of Spain.

"The best interests of both sides of this negotiation will be served by getting on to the technical discussion about the future relationship as quickly as possible in the two years that we have available", said junior Brexit Minister Robin Walker.

Picardo said the European Union should remove the reference to Gibraltar, which voted overwhelmingly to stay in the European Union, from the draft guidelines.

Spain is likely to wield a veto over any Brexit deal for Gibraltar after the EU-27 backed Madrid in its draft negotiating guidelines for forthcoming divorce talks between the United Kingdom and the bloc.

Spain has long disputed British sovereignty over the land, which has been held by the United Kingdom since 1713 and now has the status of a British overseas territory.

Government officials, lawmakers and analysts say privately that she believes she has some strong cards to play, while also hoping that European Union officials will favour pragmatism over punishment.

Tensions soared after Gibraltar built an artificial reef in 2013 that Spain said hurt its fishermen.

Brussels has indicated the draft negotiations blueprint that sparked the dispute has the full backing of European member states, and there is no appetite to back down, although the draft guidelines will be revisited by EU leaders later in April.

Picardo told CNBC in a separate interview on Monday that "nobody wants to talk about going to war", but neither the Spanish nor British residents of Gibraltar really want to see Spain having any say in the territory's fortunes.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Brexit would bring no changes to the status of Gibraltar.

From the ludicrous suggestion that we will be saddled with a 50 billion pounds divorce bill - although we are a net contributor to the European Union budget - to the claim that no trade deal will be negotiated until the end of the Article 50 process.

"We're very happy to reaffirm our support", he said.

Mrs May said: "Our position on Gibraltar has not changed".

  • Carolyn Briggs