WHAT I READ IN TODAYS UK PRESS: GIBRALTAR:
We are just one shot away from military conflict, warns MP amid new standoff
MADRID is in danger of sparking a military conflict with Britain over Gibraltar if it does not tone down its actions, a senior MP warned today as the Royal Navy was involved in a new stand-off with a Spanish ship. Sounds like things might even get nastier.
Jim Dobbin, chairman of Parliament’s All Party Group on Gibraltar, said the heightened tensions in the Mediterranean meant it would only take a trigger-happy “madman” on either side to spark serious retaliation.
He highlighted an “extremely serious” armed standoff earlier this month when a Spanish patrol boat breached a security cordon in Gibraltar’s territorial waters then “rammed a Naval Police Vessel escorting a British Navy ship”.
As Mr Dobbin was issuing the warning, a Spanish survey ship was defying Royal Navy orders to leave Gibraltar's territorial waters.
Gibraltar's government has asked London to make a protest to Madrid, and the Spanish Ambassador has been summoned to the Foreign Office.
The Spanish boat has now left the Gibraltar waters.
Over the past two years, the number of Spanish ships illegally in British waters has increased from around five per month to around 40 per month.
The Minister for Europe, David Lidington, said: "I strongly condemn this provocative incursion and urge the Spanish government to ensure that it is not repeated.
"We stand ready to do whatever is required to protect Gibraltar’s sovereignty, economy and security.
We believe that it is in the interests of Spain, Gibraltar and Britain to avoid incidents such as this that damage the prospects for establishing dialogue and cooperation."
Just two hours earlier, Mr Dobbin was urging David Cameron, the Gibraltar administration and the Spanish Government to hold trilateral talks to negotiate a “peaceful conclusion” over the tension in Gibraltar before matters spiralled out of control.
He made his comments in a special Commons debate in Westminster Hall today.
Tensions between London and Madrid escalated this summer after Spain imposed strict border checks at its crossing with Gibraltar.
Spain claimed it was merely clamping down on cigarette smuggling but Gibraltar, a British overseas territory, suggested it was a direct response to the construction of an artificial reef off its coast.
Spanish fishermen claimed the reef was affecting their livelihoods.
A European Commission delegation yesterday ruled the border checks were legal.
However, referring to the armed standoff on November 1, Mr Dobbin told MPs: “Reports state that guns were pointed and thankfully no shots were fired.
“This diary of events highlights the serious nature the British government of Gibraltar is dealing with.”
He added: “If Spain continues to flout international relations, what more can the British Government do to reach a peaceful conclusion to the dispute?”
Speaking after the debate, Mr Dobbin told Express Online: “Things are getting dangerous.
"The UK and Spain are chancing each other’s luck. It only takes a madman. I don't want to exaggerate the situation but the fact that [standoff] happened is worrying.”
Earlier, Tory MP Colonel Bob Stewart called for British Army soldiers to use Gibraltar as a training base to reinforce the UK's sovereignty over the Rock.
"Why doesn't the British Government make more use of the defence facilities in Gibraltar?" he aksed during the debate.
"The British government has got to do more to express the feelings of the people.
"We are fed up with what is happening to the people in Gibraltar.
"Can we get a stronger response to what is happening?"
Foreign Office Minister Mark Simmonds said in response that Britain had a close relationship with Spain, but there would be no negotiation on the sovereignty of Gibraltar.
He said: "We need to find a mechanism to de-escalate, not escalate, the situation.
"We must strike a balance between being forceful and making sure the Spanish government understand the UK position."
Following the standoff on November 1, Britain made a formal complaint to Spain.
The Ministry of Defence accused a Guardia Civil patrol boat of "manoeuvring in a dangerous and provocative manner" after it sailed too close to a Royal Navy squadron.
The MoD claimed the Spanish vessel breached a security cordon and was then ordered to leave the area by armed sailors on HMS Scimitar.