As the war of words between Britain and Spain intensifies over the future of Gibraltar following the triggering of Article 50 starting Britain’s process of leaving the European Union, a Spanish gunboat entered Gibraltar’s territorial waters today and was promptly intercepted by a Royal Navy patrol boat. The vessel was then escorted back to Spanish waters.
A spokesperson for the government of Gibraltar was quoted in the Press Association as saying;
The ship entered British/Gibraltarian territorial waters. It was met by the Gibraltar Squadron and invited to leave.
Gibraltar has been a British possession since 1713 when it was officially ceded under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht to Great Britain although it had been under a British occupation since 1704 when it was captured by Admiral Sir George Rooke. The Treaty of Utrecht helped end the War of the Spanish Succession which saw an alliance of European nations including Britain fighting against France and Spain which was then ruled by Philip, Duke of Anjou, the second-eldest grandson of King Louis XIV of France.
In the treaty, Spain outlined that Britain now held dominion over;
The full and entire propriety of the town and castle of Gibraltar, together with the port, fortifications, and forts thereunto belonging … for ever, without any exception or impediment whatsoever.
Modern-day Spain largely accepts that Britain has control over the island but the source of the dispute lays in the waters around “the rock” that are considered British. Spain claims this inhibits its fishing industry and presents an obstacle to its shipping. The Government of Gibraltar and the UK government disagree, a position largely accepted by the international community.
The Royal Navy maintains two fast patrol boats under the Gibraltar Squadron namely HMS Sabre and HMS Scimitar, to help secure Gibraltar’s shores and support military and civil vessels in the Strait of Gibraltar. These vessels are also supported by a small number of rigid inflatables one of which was damaged during an incident involving an intruding Spanish survey vessel in 2015.
While long the source of debate between Britain and Spain, the argument flared again when Gibraltar featured in a document last week outlining the plans for Britain’s Article 50 negotiations that suggested that Spain would be given a veto over any agreements that cover the British territory. British Prime Minister Theresa May and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson have both reiterated that the sovereignty of the islands will be decided by the people who live there and it is clear they wish to remain British despite the island’s population voting against Brexit last year.