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
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
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
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."
- 1 Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
- 2 Google April Fools': company unveils backwards search engine and huggable digital assistant
- 3 I might be an MP, but that doesn't stop me fighting sexism with my breasts
- 4 April Fools' Day 2015: The best hoax news stories from around the internet
- 5 Gamers confess the worst things they've done in The Sims
Holborn fire: Chaos as 2,000 people evacuated to escape toxic smoke filling central London
University of Cambridge: Remains of 1,300 scholars are found under building
April Fools' Day 2015: The best hoax news stories from around the internet
April Fools' Day 2015 live: The best pranks and fake stories from around the world
Jeremy Clarkson 'could be given minder' ahead of a potential Top Gear return
Street preacher quoting from the Bible fined for calling homosexuality an 'abomination'
Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
David Cameron calls Labour 'hopeless, sneering socialists' while announcing 7-day NHS plans
Revealed: Putin's army of pro-Kremlin bloggers
Katie Hopkins reported to the police for race hatred by Labour MP Simon Danczuk after tweet about Pakistani men
£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...
£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...
Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...