Former Tory leader Michael Howard has hinted Theresa May would be ready to go to war over the sovereignty of Gibraltar as the Prime Minster said she was ‘steadfastly committed’ to defending it.
Lord Howard steeply ramped up up the rhetoric by comparing the comparing the Rock to the Falkland Islands.
He told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “I think there is no question whatever that our Government will stand by Gibraltar.
“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.”
His comments came as Theresa May had offered reassurance to the people of Gibraltar that the UK remains “steadfastly committed” to the Rock amid concerns over the Brexit process.
The issue of Gibraltar was raised in the draft EU negotiating guidelines circulated by European Council president Donald Tusk, which indicated Madrid would be given a veto over the Rock’s participation in a future deal.
The Prime Minister spoke to Gibraltar’s leader Fabian Picardo to tell him the UK remained “absolutely dedicated to working with Gibraltar for the best possible outcome on Brexit”.
Mr Picardo has insisted that any future UK-EU trade deal must apply to Gibraltar.
A Downing Street spokeswoman said Mrs May “reiterated our long-standing position that the UK remains steadfastly committed to our support for Gibraltar, its people and its economy”.
“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 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.”
Spain has a long-standing territorial claim on Gibraltar, which has been held by the UK since 1713 and has the status of a British overseas territory.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon also vowed to protect Gibraltar “all the way” during the Brexit process.
The issue was not mentioned in Mrs May’s Article 50 letter but Sir Michael said: “Gibraltar is going to be protected all the way because the sovereignty of Gibraltar cannot be changed without the agreement of the people of Gibraltar and they have made it very clear they do not want to live under Spanish rule.
“It is interesting in the draft guidelines from the EU that Spain is not saying that the whole thing is subject to the transfer of sovereignty.”
Mr Picardo said he had spoken to Mrs May, who was “very supportive”.
He said on Twitter: “Just spoken at length with very supportive @theresa_may to continue our joint effort to deliver a #Brexit that works for all UK & #Gibraltar.”
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: “It is unbelievable that within a week of triggering Article 50 there are Conservatives already discussing potential wars with our European neighbours.
“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.”