A Spanish warship was chased out of British waters near Gibraltar amid escalating tensions between Britain and Spain.
In a clear act of aggression, the Spanish gunboat entered British waters to confront a British naval vessel patrolling the area. The Infanta Christina ship illegally entered the British territory just hours after Spanish foreign minister Alfonso Dastis dismissed claims that the two countries could go to war over the disputed island.
The government of Gibraltar posted a video of the confrontation on Twitter, saying: ‘Illegal incursion into British Gibraltar Territorial Waters by Spanish Navy patrol ship Infanta Cristina this afternoon.’
— HM Govt of Gibraltar (@GibraltarGov) April 4, 2017
Tweeting a picture of the ship that he took today, David Parody wrote: ‘In true Spanish style, to calm down, they send us a gun boat!’
Mr Parody, a Gibraltarian who was born and lives there, said the ship was around a mile off the coast, and claimed it is the seventh incursion into British waters by Spanish ships this year.
Asked if Britain should take military action, he said: ‘We don’t want to see gun boat diplomacy because there would be no winner in that, but this is bullying.
‘We live in an age of diplomacy and Spain should respect that. Britain has even offered to take Spain to international court to resolve this issue and Spain has refused.’
The path of the British HMS Scimitar, which followed the Spanish vessel today, reveals how it had sailed well within Gibraltarian waters.
Mr Parody claims that there have been more than 100 incursions into British waters by Spanish navy ships since 2014, and even aircraft have also flown in Gibraltarian airspace without permission.
The vessel’s appearance today comes after Lord Howard said Britain should be ready to go to war over Gibraltar, which MPs have warned will be used as Brexit leverage by Spain.
Mr Parody added: ‘The Spanish are claiming this is a matter of routine but to do it hours after Lord Howard says Britain would be willing to go to war is obviously to send a message.’
This week’s war of words comes after years of disagreements between Britain and Spain over the peninsula off the Spanish coast, which has been a British overseas territory since the 18th century.
Its 30,000 resident overwhelmingly rejected Spanish sovereignty in two referendums in 1967 and 2002, but Brexit raised new questions after they voted to stay in the European Union in June.
But Mr Parody says Spain needs to respect their international waters as the constant incursions are making residents feel nervous.
‘If there were armed paramilitary vehicles arriving in London every day, people wouldn’t feel secure,’ Mr Parody added.
Theresa May yesterday played down the threat of military conflict over Gibraltar yesterday.
Former Tory leader Michael Howard had suggested she was prepared to show the ‘same resolve’ defending the Rock as Margaret Thatcher had over the Falklands
The EU has said Madrid would have a veto over Gibraltar’s inclusion in any post-Brexit trade deal but yesterday Mrs May dismissed the idea of going to war with a Nato ally.
Asked whether, in Winston Churchill’s famous phrase, it would be ‘jaw-jaw, not war-war’, Mrs May said: ‘What we’re doing with all European countries in the European Union is sitting down and talking to them.
‘We’re going to be talking to them about getting the best possible deal for the UK, and for those countries, Spain included. It’s definitely jaw-jaw.’
Mrs May also rejected suggestions that Gibraltar had been hung out to dry by her failure to mention the fate of the Rock in her letter to the EU setting out her Brexit negotiating position last week.
‘I spoke to the chief minister of Gibraltar yesterday. What we are going to be doing is continuing to support Gibraltar – our position on Gibraltar has not changed,’ she said.
‘We will be working with them as part of our negotiations to get the best possible trade deal for the UK and the best possible deal for Gibraltar.
‘Our position on the sovereignty of Gibraltar has not changed and will not change.’
Spain’s foreign minister yesterday mocked how tensions had quickly escalated since the EU published its draft Brexit negotiating guidelines on Friday and called for Britain to calm down.
Ahead of a meeting with Brexit Secretary David Davis in Madrid, Alfonso Dastis said: ‘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.’