Spanish minister tells United Kingdom to 'not lose temper' over Gibraltar

The Prime Minister said any Brexit deal would ensure Britain regained "control of our borders".

Portuguese Foreign Minister August Santos Silva has noted that Britain is Portugal's oldest ally, dating back to the 14th century.

Mr Dastis met Brexit Secretary David Davis for talks on Monday at the start of a pre-planned two-day visit to Spain and Portugal.

The prospect of Spanish interference with Britain's sovereignty in Gibraltar caused alarm in the United Kingdom, which was ceded the 2.6-square-mile (6.7-square-kilometre) peninsula under a 1713 treaty and has repeatedly butted heads with Spain over the territory in the centuries since.

Spain's foreign minister on Monday accused Britain of losing its composure over Gibraltar, after a leading Conservative politician in the United Kingdom compared uncertainty over the enclave's status after Brexit to the 1982 Falklands War.

Gibraltar was not mentioned in May's letter to the EU commission's president, Donald Tusk, triggering article 50 last week, but the European council's draft guidelines published in response to the exit letter on Friday said the overseas territory could only be included in a trade deal between London and the EU with Spain's agreement.

The UK has held sovereignty over Gibraltar for more than 300 years after it was captured from Spain in the Spanish War of Succession in 1704.

On Monday, it became the latest salvo in a war of words between Spain and the United Kingdom over the roughly 2 square miles of land that constitute Gibraltar. The meetings are part of London's preparations to leave the EU.

Downing Street confirmed on Monday that, despite a weekend of sabre-rattling by senior Conservatives, Britain will not be sending a Falklands-style military task force to defend Gibraltar against Spain's claim of sovereignty over the Rock. "On this particular issue, their restraint is conspicuous by its absence".

Michael Howard, a former Conservative leader, said Sunday that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had sent British warships to the South Atlantic in 1982 "to protect another small group of British people against another Spanish-speaking country".

When asked if Gibraltar was now a chip in negotiations, he said: "The last time I looked at this monolithic rock of mine and of the people of Gibraltar it doesn't look like a chip and its not going on any table".

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Brexit would bring no changes to the status of Gibraltar. Spain has long sought to regain possession of the Rock, which measures just over two square miles and is home to 30,000 people.

Spain's foreign ministry denied the vessel had made an illegal incursion as it does not recognize the UK's claims to the waters.

The document stipulates that "no agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom".

Gibraltarians voted overwhelmingly in last June's referendum to stay as part of the European Union but Britain's decision as a whole to leave potentially takes the overseas territory with it.

Disputes between Gibraltar and Spain over the waters are frequent but the latest comes days after the territory of some 33,000 people took centre stage in the wrangling over Britain's exit from the European Union, which was triggered on March 29.

  • Zachary Reyes