Gibraltar row: Warship HMS Westminster sets off for British territory as tensions rise

Downing Street said it was considering the 'unprecedented step' of legal action against Spain over extra border checks

Deputy Political Editor

The Royal Navy warship HMS Westminster has set sail from its home port heading for Gibraltar amid diplomatic tensions with Spain

HMS Westminster, a type 23 frigate, left Portsmouth naval base in Hampshire, to join nine other vessels taking part in a pre-planned international training exercise called Cougar '13 in the Mediterranean and Gulf.

The exercise comes as Britain threatened Spain with legal action over the "politically motivated" imposition of extra checks on the frontier with Gibraltar.

Diplomatic tensions between the two countries continued to grow after Downing Street disclosed it was considering taking the "unprecedented step" on the grounds that the Spanish action breached European Union law.

Sources in London believe the Madrid government is stoking up the issue as a distraction from its political travails, which include accusations of corruption and the continuing pain of austerity measures.

Last week Number 10 claimed David Cameron had secured a promise from his Spanish counterpart, Mariano Rajoy, to scale down the border controls, but the Spaniards immediately contradicted Britain's version of events.

With little sign of an early resolution to the stand-off, there were reports at the weekend of drivers facing a wait of up two hours to pass into the UK overseas territory.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "Clearly the Prime Minister is disappointed by the failure of Spain to remove the additional border checks this weekend. We are now considering what legal action is open to us.

"This would be an unprecedented step so we want to consider it carefully before a making a decision to pursue."

A cloud looms over the Rock of Gibraltar, which is the subject of a dispute over sovereignty between the UK and Spain A cloud looms over the Rock of Gibraltar  

He said: "We feel these delays are politically motivated and totally disproportionate".

Ministers were discussing whether to pursue the issue as a "matter of urgency" with the EU, the spokesman added.

Giles Paxman, Britain's ambassador in Madrid, reiterated the possibility of legal action yesterday during a meeting with Spanish officials.

But Ignacio Ibanez, director general for foreign affairs at Spain's foreign ministry, shrugged off the threat.

"We are not worried because we are convinced about what we are doing and we know that the right is on our side," he told the BBC.

The move comes amid an escalating row over the construction of an artificial reef by the Gibraltarian authorities which Spain claims will destroy fishing in the area.

Madrid responded by beefing up border controls, leading to lengthy queues, and suggesting that a €50 (£43) fee could be imposed on every vehicle entering or leaving the territory through the fenced border with Spain.

HMS Illustrious leaves Portsmouth navy base as British warships began setting sail for the Mediterranean for a naval exercise that will see one vessel dock in Gibraltar, as tensions rise with Spain over the British-held territory HMS Illustrious leaves Portsmouth navy base

Reports in the Spanish media have suggested the row could escalate to the United Nations, with Madrid floating the idea of Spain and Argentina presenting a "united front" over Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands.

Argentina is currently a non-permanent member of the UN's Security Council and could use its position to add Gibraltar to its agenda. Its president, Cristina Kirchner, has already renewed demands for talks over the sovereignty of the Falklands.

Meanwhile, thousands of Royal Navy personnel set sail yesterday for a long-scheduled training exercise in the Mediterranean. The Ministry of Defence stressed the timing was coincidental, but Boris Johnson, the London Mayor, said the deployment should send a clear signal to the Spanish.

"Maybe it's just a fluke that HMS Illustrious is about to bristle into view on the southern coast of Spain, complete with thousands of Royal Marines and other elite commando units," Mr Johnson said.

"But I hope not. I hope that one way or another we will shortly prise Spanish hands off the throat of our colony, because what is now taking place is infamous."

Suggested Topics
News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game