Royal Navy ships were deployed in response to an incident yesterday (Sunday 17th February) where a Spanish warship, with its guns manned, ordered commercial ships to leave Gibraltarian waters, the British Territory’s Government said.
The Spanish warship’s crew can be heard in an audio recording of a radio exchange ordering commercial ships anchored on the eastern side of the Rock to “leave Spanish territorial waters”, but the ships were then ordered to remain by the Gibraltar Port Authority and therefore they stayed in position.
After being challenged by the British navy, the Spanish warship then sailed slowly along the coast with its weapons uncovered and manned. The UK Government has since accused the Spanish warship of trying to take “executive action” against the commercial ships anchored at Gibraltar.
Responding to the incident, Dr Julia Reid MEP, who represents Gibraltar in the European Parliament accused Spain of acting like a “predatory monster” who “doesn’t understand the meaning of No”.
“In 1967, the people of Gibraltar were asked whether they wanted to pass under Spanish sovereignty during a referendum – they voted overwhelmingly to reject the offer with 99.64% of the electorate voting to remain British.
“Then, in 2002, the people of Gibraltar were asked whether they wanted to share sovereignty of the territory between Spain and the United Kingdom in another referendum. Again, they voted overwhelmingly (99:1) against joint sovereignty with Spain.
“And even though the people of Gibraltar would have preferred the UK to remain a member of the EU, since the referendum their Government has repeatedly ruled out joint sovereignty with Spain. They’ve even said that ‘if pressed to choose’, Gibraltar would always elect to remain a member of the UK family over access to the single market.
“So how many more times does Gibraltar have to say ‘No’ before they finally get the message? Since the 2016 EU referendum, Spain has become increasingly antagonistic – and I very much doubt that Theresa May’s weakness in the Brexit negotiations, or the EU’s dangerously blasé attitude to Spain’s intimidatory tactics, are doing anything to improve the situation.
“In fact, the last time a Spanish warship illegally sailed through British waters blasting out the Spanish national anthem a Vice President of the European Parliament, Ramón Luis Valcárcel, published two tweets applauding Spain’s actions before later deleting them. Then, to make matters worse, the EU recently referred to Gibraltar as a ‘British colony’ in a piece of draft legislation they published a few weeks back.
“Unfortunately, in the past, the UK’s response to illegal incursions of Spanish vessels into Gibraltarian waters hasn’t been as robust as it might have been which is thought to be due to the UK needing Spain’s support in the European Council. Hopefully, should the UK succeed in leaving the EU, we can finally put our foot down.
“As for the timing of the most recent incident, a cynic might wonder if it has any connection with the Spanish Government calling a snap general election on Friday.”