Britain will defend Gibraltar 'all the way', Defence Secretary vows
Britain will take any action necessary to guard Gibraltar from any Spanish threats to gain sovereignty over the rock, Michael Fallon has said.
The Defence Secretary responded to comparisons with the Falkland Islands, by pledging to safeguard the “very clear” instructions of residents who do not want to live under Spanish rule.
As an overseas territory, Gibraltar is set to quit the EU alongside the UK, despite an overwhelming 96% of residents voting to Remain.
A clause laid out in the EU’s negotiating plans could give Spain the right to exclude Gibraltar from any UK-EU transitional single market access arrangement, or trade deal if it is not satisfied with the status of the territory.
But attempts to seize control of the peninsula under a joint-sovereignty arrangement have been roundly rejected by UK ministers, including Mr Fallon and Boris Johnson, who likened any move to a “land grab”.
Speaking on the Andrew Marr show, Mr Fallon said: “We’re going to look after Gibraltar’s interests. Gibraltar’s 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’ve made it very clear they do not want to live under Spanish rule.
"We are very clear that there cannot be a change in the status and sovereignty of Gibraltar unless the people of Gibraltar agree to it and they don't, they clearly don't. That is not going to happen. Gibraltar's going to be involved in these negotiations...and there will in the end, of course, be an agreement that fully respects the position of Gibraltar."
“It’s interesting I think in the draft guidelines from the EU that Spain is not saying that the whole thing is subject to the transfer of sovereignty," he added.
Ministers have faced criticism for neglecting to mention Gibraltar in Theresa May’s six page Article 50 letter to Donald Tusk last week.
Mr Fallon responded, saying: "The letter does refer to the Brexit White paper and Gibraltar is firmly in that white paper, I think you'll find eight separate references to Gibraltar in that white paper.
Gibraltar’s chief minister Fabian Picardo, who also appeared on the programme, branded the idea of living under Spanish rule as “absolutely awful” and urged the UK to step up and defend the peninsula.
“It would strip us of who we are. Gibraltar would not be British if sovereignty is shared with Spain. For what price would you sell Cornwall to the French?,” he said.
“It would be absolutely awful, because our home would have been handed over to a party who has no claim to title.
“Our day to day lives would not be the lives we lead to today, because we would be living in effect, partly what is somebody else’s land and that would be massively unfair to the people of Gibraltar.
“The United Kingdom goes to war over the principle of consent around the world and the people of Gibraltar have expressed their views as to what they think the sovereignty of Gibraltar should be, both democratically and freely.”
But in a phone call with Mr Picardo later the Prime Minister assured him Britain was "steadfastly committed to our support for Gibraltar".
A Downing Street spokesperson said: "The Prime Minister said we will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes.
"Nor will we ever enter into a process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content.
"The Prime Minister said we remain absolutely dedicated to working with Gibraltar for the best possible outcome on Brexit, and will continue to involve them fully in the process.”