Spain-UK Row Escalates Over Gibraltar, Brexit

Spain-UK Row Escalates Over Gibraltar, BrexitSpain-UK Row Escalates Over Gibraltar, Brexit

Tensions are rising between the UK and Spain in a row over the future of Gibraltar, as the UK embarks on negotiations to leave the European Union.

The dispute escalated since the circulation of the EU's draft Brexit negotiating guidelines on Friday appeared to offer Spain a right of veto over Gibraltar's future trade relations with the bloc, Aljazeera reported. The move prompted fury in the UK, where ministers described it as "utterly unacceptable".

A former leader of the UK's Conservative party, Michael Howard, said on Sunday that British Prime Minister Theresa May would even be prepared to go to war to defend the territory, as Britain did with Argentina over the Falkland Islands 35 years ago.

Howard's comments followed an interview on Sunday by Michael Fallon, the UK's defense secretary, in which he said, "Gibraltar is going to be protected all the way because the sovereignty of Gibraltar cannot be changed without the agreement of the people of Gibraltar and they have made it very clear they do not want to live under Spanish rule."

Voters in Gibraltar, a strategically important rocky outpost at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea, rejected the idea of Britain sharing sovereignty with Spain by 99% to 1% in 2002, but overwhelmingly backed remaining in the EU in June's Brexit referendum.

Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in 1713, but has long called for it to be returned.

Spain's Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis on Monday called for calm. "The Spanish government is a little surprised by the tone of comments coming out of Britain, a country known for its composure," Dastis said during a conference in Madrid.

But the British government was angered further after Spain appeared to ease its opposition to an independent Scotland becoming a member of the EU, saying it would not immediately block such a move.

The Scottish independence drive–now resuscitated by the prospect of Britain's departure from the EU-is highly controversial in Spain because of the secessionist movement in Catalonia.

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