Daily Mail


...or how a tiny British patrol boat chased Spanish warship from Gibraltar waters

- By Ian Drury and Neil Sears

SPAIN was last night accused of an act of war after sending a gunboat into British waters off Gibraltar.

In a deliberate provocatio­n, the Infanta Cristina steamed within a mile of the Rock – before being chased off by the Royal Navy.

The incursion – described as unlawful by the Foreign Office – prompted claims that Madrid was exploiting tensions sparked by Brexit.

Just before the incident, Spanish foreign minister Alfonso Dastis told Britain not to lose its temper following Tory peer Lord Howard’s suggestion that Theresa May would go to war over the Rock. His call for cool heads was undermined when the Spanish corvette sailed close to the coast at around midday.

Colonel Bob Stewart, a former senior British military commander and Tory MP, said: ‘I have raised before the number of incursions by Spanish naval vessels and said they are deliberate­ly sending their ships into the territoria­l waters of another state without permission.

‘This could, at the very least, be deemed a very hostile act. It could be an act of war. Spain is deliberate­ly stoking up the situation.’

Eu officials sparked the row on Friday by trying to give Madrid a full veto over Gibraltar’s status after Britain leaves the Eu.

The Eu’s position prompted Lord Howard to say he believed Mrs May could defend the Rock as Margaret Thatcher had with the Falklands.

The government of Gibraltar said: ‘The illegal incursion is a timely demonstrat­ion of the way in which Spain routinely conducts itself in breach of the united Nations convention on the law of the sea.’

David Parody, who was born and lives in Gibraltar, said: ‘In true Spanish style, to calm down, they send us a gunboat.

‘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. If there were armed paramilita­ry vehicles arriving in London every day, people wouldn’t feel secure.’ HMS Scimitar, a fast patrol boat armed with two general purpose machine guns, went to intercept the Spanish vessel.

The Royal Navy successful­ly ordered the ship to leave but the incident, the seventh of its kind this year, is likely to escalate already simmering tensions over the sovereignt­y of the Rock.

There have been more than 100 maritime incursions by Spanish navy ships since 2014 – but the timing of the latest incident is particular­ly inflammato­ry.

A Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs official said the Infanta Cristina was conducting a routine patrol to monitor migration or drug traffickin­g across the Gibraltar Strait. British territoria­l waters extend three miles around the Rock.

Spain, which claims it should have sovereignt­y over the territory, is expected to demand an end to the Rock’s tax haven status as part of Brexit negotiatio­ns, as well as a ban on internatio­nal airlines at its airport and the departure of the Royal Navy.

Mrs May came under fire after refusing to rule out possible bilateral talks with Spain over Gibraltar during Brexit negotiatio­ns. She insisted the uK’s position on sovereignt­y ‘has not changed and will not change’.

But Gibraltar’s first minister Fabian Picardo expressed concern that she had not dismissed the idea of discussion­s. He said: ‘It is time for the British govern-

‘Particular­ly inflammato­ry’

ment to rule out any bilateral veto for Spain and stand by Gibraltar. Otherwise Spain will be able to dictate terms to us and that will be totally unfair.’

Gibraltar is a British overseas territory with a naval base, a military garrison and 33,000 residents and has been held since 1713. In 1967 and 2002 its people overwhelmi­ngly voted against Spanish sovereignt­y.

However, in January 2015 MPs warned that Gibraltar, which voted 96 per cent for Remain, was being sacrificed as a ‘pawn’ by a Government intent on appeasing Spain to secure its Eu reform agenda.

Spain’s foreign ministry said it did not recognise the waters as belonging to Gibraltar.

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 ??  ?? Clash: Scimitar, circled, sees off the Spanish
Clash: Scimitar, circled, sees off the Spanish

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