UK blowing Gibraltar issue 'out of proportion': Spain

Indo Asian News Service

Madrid, April 3 (IANS) A UK politician's comments suggesting his country would go to war with Spain to protect Gibraltar were downplayed on Monday by the Spanish Foreign Minister, who suggested the topic was blown "out of proportion".

The spat over Gibraltar's fate ahead of Britain's exit from the European Union (EU) has dominated media reports in both Madrid and London, with rhetorical exchanges intensifying when a former Conservative leader said that, if required, UK Prime Minister Theresa May would go to war to protect the overseas territory, Efe news reported.

"It seems to me that someone in the UK is freaking out over nothing," Forein Minister Alfonso Dastis said.

Former Conservative Party leader Michael Howard told the British media over the weekend that May would emulate former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who went to war with Argentina to retain British rule over the Falklands Islands in 1982.

His comments were widely criticised as inflammatory.

"Bringing up events from the past with the Falklands is taking things a little out of context," Dastis added.

The fallout erupted when several politicians criticised the UK's Conservative government for failing to mention Gibraltar in the six-page Brexit letter sent to the European Council, the institution which then gave Spain apparent veto powers over any final deal that would affect Gibraltar.

May has since spoken with the Chief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo, to reassure him of the UK's steadfast support ahead of the two-year negotiations period.

Picardo, rather than blaming May for the debacle, pointed towards the Spanish government, claiming Madrid had lobbied the Council to include the veto clause in order to exert its influence over the Peninsula.

Dastis again brushed those accusations aside, saying he wanted the Spaniards who worked in Gibraltar -- of which there are thousands -- to be able to continue doing so.

Gibraltar, located on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, has been a British territory since 1713.

Although its has consistently rejected any notion of shared UK-Spain sovereignty -- as proffered by a slew of Spanish governments -- some 96 per cent of Gibraltarians voted to stay in the EU.