EU backs giving Spain a veto on Gibraltar's post-Brexit future
Gibraltar - credit: Fotolia
The EU will not back down in its support for allowing Spain a veto on Gibraltar's post-Brexit future, according to Brussels diplomats.
A row erupted over the status of the territory after the EU's draft negotiating guidelines suggested it would not be part of any EU-UK trade deal without Spanish approval.
Former Tory leader Lord Howard inflamed things further by claiming yesterday that Theresa May would be willing to go to war to protect Gibraltar, in the same way Margaret Thatcher did over the Falklands.
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Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said the Government would go "all the way" to protect the interests of "the rock", while Theresa May also assured Gibraltar's chief minister of her support.
In a phone call with Fabian Picardo yesterday the Prime Minister assured him Britain was "steadfastly committed to our support for Gibraltar".
A Downing Street spokesperson said: "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."
The issue is sure to be on the agenda when Brexit Secretary David Davis visits Spain and Portugal later this week.
Picardo himself played down the row over the trade deal, suggesting the negotiating guidelines were "just a draft at the moment" and might be watered down.
But sources on the continent made clear there was no softening of the EU's stance, with the remaining member states backing Spain.
“Spain are taking this very, very seriously. I think there is support across the board among the member states. Why not?" one diplomat told the Guardian.
"It is not a problem that was born yesterday. It has been with us a long time and we have always listened to both sides. Now we are going to support the member state.
"That is the philosophy behind it. I wouldn’t think any of the 26 other states will somehow try to undermine this clause," the source added.
Another diplomat told the paper they were surprised Theresa May had not included a reference to Gibraltar in her Article 50 letter.
"I was personally surprised, but if Theresa May thinks the status of Gibraltar and its border with Spain is of little significance, the EU does not," they said.
Meanwhile Lord Howard came in for criticism for his "inflammatory" comments about possible war with Gibraltar.
He had told Sky News' Sophy Ridge on Sunday: "I think there’s no question whatever that our government would stand by Gibraltar."
He added: "35 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 would show the same resolve in standing by the people of Gibraltar.”
Labour's shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry branded the comments "inflammatory" and said they would "not help Britain get what it needs from these difficult Brexit negotiations".
Lib Dem leader Tim Farron blasted: "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.
"Brexiteers have gone from cheering to sabre-rattling for war in four days, it is absolutely ludicrous."