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

Daily Mail - - Front Page - 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.


Clash: Scim­i­tar, cir­cled, sees off the Span­ish

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