UK Prime Minister Theresa May has vowed to get the best deal for Gibraltar during negotiations to withdraw Britain from the European Union (EU), escalating a heated standoff with Spain which also claims sovereignty over the land.
After drawing fire for not mentioning the small British territory in the Mediterranean in her Brexit letter to the EU, May reassured Gibraltar's chief minister Fabian Picardo that London was “steadfastly committed” to its support for the people living there.
“The Prime Minister said we remain absolutely dedicated to working with Gibraltar for the best possible outcome on Brexit and will continue to involve them fully in the process,” said a spokeswoman for May.
Madrid and London have been engaged in a bitter sovereignty row over Gibraltar for years.
On Friday, President of the European Council Donald Tusk said no agreement between the EU and the UK may apply to the territory without an agreement between Britain and Spain, a decision that angered Gibraltarians.
May told Picardo that the UK would not cede Gibraltar against the will of the people living there.
“The Prime Minister said we will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes, nor will we ever enter into a process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content,” her spokeswoman said.
‘May would go to war’
Earlier on Sunday, former Conservative leader Michael Howard expressed confidence in May’s ability to protect the Rock, drawing an analogy between her and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
“Thirty-five years ago this week, another woman prime minister sent a task-force halfway across the world to defend the freedom of another small group of British people against another Spanish-speaking country, and I’m absolutely certain that our current prime minister will show the same resolve in standing by the people of Gibraltar,” Howard told Sky News.
The comments outraged Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, who has been a firm opponent of Brexit long before 52 percent of Britons voted in favor of it in a referendum last June.
“In only a few days the Conservative right are turning long term allies into potential enemies. I hope this isn’t a sign of the government’s approach to the long negotiations to come,” he said.
Spain has long tried to reclaim Gibraltar. After Britain voted last year to leave the EU, Madrid proposed shared sovereignty over the territory, arguing this would allow the territory to remain in the bloc.