Theresa May is prepared to go to war over Gibraltar as Margaret Thatcher did over the Falklands, senior Tories claimed yesterday.
Former Conservative leader Lord Howard said the Prime Minister would show the same resolve in defending Gibraltar from Spain as her predecessor did in wresting the Falklands back from Argentina following the 1982 invasion, the Daily Mail reported.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said the United Kingdom was prepared to go “all the way” to keep the Rock out of Spain’s clutches.
The angry warnings follow the extraordinary bid by Madrid last week to use Brexit to ramp up its historic claim on Gibraltar.
May yesterday spoke to Gibraltar’s leader Fabian Picardo to reassure him she would never “enter into a process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content”.
Brexit Secretary David Davis will underline the message today during talks with his counterpart in Madrid, when he will say Gibraltar’s status is non-negotiable. The European Union stunned No 10 on Friday by backing Spain over Gibraltar.
European Council president Donald Tusk said Madrid would be given the power to block any new EU-UK trade deal from applying to Gibraltar, leading to fears that Spain could attempt to lay siege to the Rock after Britain leaves the EU.
Spain yesterday upped the ante by dropping its historic threat to block an independent Scotland from joining the EU a move that is likely to encourage the SNP to hold a second referendum.
Lord Howard likened the threat to Gibraltar to the aggressive stance adopted by Argentina to the Falkland Islands in the run-up to the war in the South Atlantic.
He added: “Thirty-five years ago this week, another woman prime minister sent a taskforce halfway across the world to defend the freedom of another small group of British people against another Spanish-speaking country, and I’m absolutely certain that our current prime minister will show the same resolve in standing by the people of Gibraltar.”
His intervention provoked an angry response from the left. Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said: “Inflammatory comments like those by Michael Howard will not help Britain get what it needs from these difficult Brexit negotiations.”
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron described his intervention as “ludicrous”, adding: “It is unbelievable that within a week of triggering Article 50 there are Conservatives already discussing potential wars with our European neighbours.”
Former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg revealed that he vetoed the appointment of Lord Howard as the UK’s commissioner to the EU, adding: “Looks like we all had a lucky escape.”
Asked if the UK would support Gibraltar in the same way it had the Falklands, Sir Michael told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “We are going to look after Gibraltar it is going to be protected all the way because the sovereignty of Gibraltar cannot be changed without the people of Gibraltar.
“They have been very clear they do not want to live under Spanish rule.”
Rear Admiral Chris Parry, a former director of operational capability at the Ministry of Defence, warned that the Royal Navy was much smaller than during the Falklands war, although he said it retained the capacity to “cripple” Spain. AP