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UK Politics

Spain vows to defend its Gibraltar interests while British fleet sails in (coincidentally, of course)

Mariano Rajoy says Britain should act with 'common sense and good judgement'

Spain will take “all legal measures” to protect its interests in its row with Gibraltar, its Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has warned Britain.

In tough remarks, following the failure of diplomatic efforts to defuse the row, Mr Rajoy said Spain would “defend its national interests” and suggested Britain should act with “common sense and good judgement”.

Downing Street said the British position on the issue had “been quite clear” and the Foreign Office said it was aware of Mr Rajoy’s comments.

A fleet of British warships will visit Gibraltar this month in what Prime Minister David Cameron calls a “routine deployment”.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed that the frigate HMS Westminster and two auxiliary Royal Navy ships will be sent to the Rock, while another three warships will visit Spanish ports.

They will be accompanied by an elite commando group from the Royal Marines and naval air squadrons. The MoD says the deployment is “long-planned” and not connected to political disagreements.

Meanwhile Spanish Prime Minister’s intervention followed a formal protest by Britain’s ambassador in Madrid over “disproportionate” checks at the border with Spain and Spanish threats to levy a charge on vehicles crossing into Gibraltar and to close airspace. Yesterday No 10 confirmed that British warships will soon set sail for Gibraltarian waters as part of a planned exercise in the Mediterranean.

The dispute flared up after Gibraltarian authorities dropped concrete blocks in the sea off the territory’s coastline. The Gibraltar government said it was attempting to create an artificial reef to protect marine life.

However the Spanish believe the blocks were dropped to prevent Spanish fishermen from trawling in the area.

In a press conference Mr Rajoy said: “We will take legal measures which are proportionate to defend the interests of Spaniards. I hope that this issue goes no further, but Spain has to defend its national interests.

“We can and should carry out border controls like the ones which we have carried out in recent days.”

The Spanish Prime Minister’s intervention came two days after a phone call with David Cameron, who told his counterpart the situation at the border with Gibraltar was “not acceptable”.

Downing Street said that in the “constructive” phone call Mr Rajoy agreed to reducing measures at the border, but a statement issued by the Spanish government afterwards made no reference to any such concession.

The European Commission has suggested organising a “technical meeting” with the Spanish authorities about the border controls in September or October. Spain claims sovereignty over Gibraltar, which has been a British Overseas Territory since the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.

The UK Government has made clear that it will not negotiate over sovereignty as long as Gibraltar’s people want to remain British.