Just days after a post-Brexit UK cabinet put Europe on edge when a former Conservative leader said on Sunday that Theresa May "would go to war" to protect Gibraltar, Spain has tested the former EU member's resolve when on Tuesday afternoon the Gibraltar government tweeted that a Spanish gunship has made an illegal incursion into British waters off Gibraltar amid rising Brexit tensions over the territory.
According to SkyNews which broke the story, the Royal Navy told the ship to leave but the incident, the seventh of its kind this year, is likely to escalate already rising tensions over the sovereignty of the Rock.
— HM Govt of Gibraltar (@GibraltarGov) April 4, 2017
The alleged incursion comes the day after Spanish foreign minister Alfonso Dastis told the UK not to "lose tempers" after the EU Brexit negotiation guidelines effectively gave Spain significant power over Gibraltar's future.
Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson have moved to reassure the people of Gibraltar that the territory will remain under British control. Lord Howard told the Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme: "I think there's no question whatever that our Government will stand by Gibraltar." As we reported previously, over the weekend former Conservative leader Lord Howard told Sky News Theresa May could be willing to defend the British territory - like Margaret Thatcher had over the Falklands.
He said: "Thirty-five years ago this week, another woman prime minister sent a task force half way across the world to defend the freedom of another small group of British people against another Spanish-speaking country.
"I'm absolutely certain that our current prime minister will show the same resolve in standing by the people of Gibraltar."
Downing Street said it would not be sending a task force to Gibraltar but did not condemn Lord Howard's comments. A spokesman said on Monday: "All that Lord Howard was trying to establish is the resolve that we will have to protect the rights of Gibraltar and its sovereignty."
Spain has a long-standing territorial claim on Gibraltar, which has been held by the UK since 1713 and has the status of a British overseas territory; recent post-Brexit developments suggest that Europe, and especially Spain, may have renewed claims on the territory.