Spain has advised Britain not to get testy during Brexit talks concerning Gibraltar after a senior British politician proposed launching war over the disputed territory.
Gibraltar is a strategic British territory located at the entrance of the Mediterranean Sea on the southern tip of Spain’s Iberian Peninsula with an area of 6.7 square kilometers.
Gibraltar was ceded to Britain in 1713 as part of the Treaty of Utrecht. But Spain over the past decades has made it clear that it wants the enclave back.
Gibraltarians have preferred to be British nationals rather than Spaniards.
However, after Britain’s exit from the European Union, Madrid believes Gibraltarians may choose to rejoin Spain to remain connected to the EU.
“Someone in the UK is losing their temper and there’s no need for it,” Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said on Monday.
“The Spanish government is a little surprised by the tone of comments coming out of Britain, a country known for its composure,” Dastis said.
Spain’s top diplomat said the EU is “obliged” to back Spain’s position on Gibraltar as Britain prepares to withdraw from the bloc.
“We spoke with our [EU] partners and the institutions in recent weeks and we made the Spanish position clear: when the United Kingdom leaves the EU, the EU partner is Spain, and when it comes to Gibraltar, the EU is thus obliged to take Spain’s side,” Dastis said.
On Sunday, the former Conservative leader Michael Howard suggested that British Prime Minister Theresa May would be prepared to go to war to protect the territory as Margaret Thatcher once did over the Falklands (Malvinas).
“Thirty-five years ago this week, another woman prime minister sent a taskforce 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 said in an interview with Sky News.
In 1982, the UK and Argentina fought a ten-week war over the Falklands in the South Atlantic which left hundreds of casualties.
Dastis said comparing Gibraltar to the Falklands was out of context.
Meanwhile, in response to Spain’s whetted appetite for the territory, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on Monday reiterated London's position in a more diplomatic tone.
“The sovereignty of Gibraltar is unchanged and it’s not going to change, and it cannot conceivably change without the express support and consent of the people of Gibraltar and the United Kingdom,” he said, emphasizing, “That is not going to change.”