David Davis goes to Spain to calm tensions in Gibraltar row
Spanish government accuses some in the UK of 'losing their cool' as Tory grandee talks of war
Brexit secretary David Davis is to visit Spain and Portugal this week with the row over Gibraltar sure to dominate talks.
Diplomats are also concerned that the Queen could get dragged into the row with the King and Queen of Spain due to make a state visit to the UK in June.
Spanish foreign minister Alfonso Dastis today told reporters in Madrid: "It seems someone is losing their cool" after former Tory leader Michael Howard suggested the UK could go to war to keep Gibraltar British.
Lord Howard told Sophy Ridge's Sunday morning politics show on Sky that 35 years ago: "Another woman Prime Minister sent a taskforce halfway across the world to protect another small group of British people against another Spanish-speaking country. And I'm absolutely clear that our current woman Prime Minister will show the same resolve in relation to Gibraltar as her predecessor did."
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon did little to damp down the controversy when he added later in the day that Britain would go "all the way" to protect Gibraltar given residents there have made it clear that they want to remain part of the UK.
However Spanish ministers are believed to be surprised by the reaction among the UK press and Brexiteer politicians to a clause in the EU's Brexit negotiating guidelines published on Friday which confirmed Spain would have a veto over any deal struck by the UK. European diplomats have made it clear since the row erupted that the EU nations will back their fellow member state Spain in any dispute with the UK as it leaves the club.
Theresa May chose not to mention Gibraltar, which has a population of around 30,000 and has been a UK territory since the 1713, in her letter to EU Council chief Donald Tusk last week that triggered Article 50. However she's believed to have phoned Gibraltarian chief minister Fabian Picardo to assure him of her support. Her spokesman today said the UK would not be sending a taskforce to Gibraltar.
Brexit secretary David Davis will now travel to Madrid later this week in what was meant to be a meeting to discuss broader Brexit negotiations but which is bound to be derailed by the Gibraltar controversy.
The king and queen of Spain are also due to make a state visit to the UK in the summer which could reignite the row.
Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw dismissed talk of conflict with Spain as "frankly absurd".
Gibraltar was ceded by Spain to the UK under the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht which brought an end to the War of the Spanish Succession. It was a vital base for the Royal Navy during the Battle of Trafalgar and during World War Two.
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