UK

Spanish incursion off Gibraltar prompts UK protest

Gibraltar Image copyright Reuters

The Foreign Office is to issue a "formal protest" after a Spanish warship entered British-controlled waters around Gibraltar and disrupted a Royal Navy training exercise.

A department spokesman said it would be raising the incursion, which occurred on Tuesday, at "a high level".

Military chiefs temporarily suspended the exercise while a Gibraltar Squadron patrol boat shadowed the Spanish ship.

Relations have soured since Gibraltar built an artificial reef last year.

Spain complained the blocks would disrupt waters used by its fishing boats, and shortly afterwards imposed strict controls at the border with Gibraltar that it said were to help prevent tobacco smuggling into its territory.

Speaking about the latest incident, a Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokesman said the Royal Navy patrolled and challenged "all unlawful incursions into British Gibraltar territorial waters" as part of the UK's "commitment to uphold our sovereignty against unlawful incursions with a range of proportionate naval, police and diplomatic responses".

He added: "There should be no doubt that the MoD remains absolutely committed to ensuring the defence and security of Gibraltar."

The Foreign Office's "formal protest" will take the form of a diplomatic letter, the government said.

Last summer, Gibraltar dropped 74 concrete blocks into the sea into disputed waters just off its coast, which it said were intended to create an artificial reef and encourage sea-life to flourish.

The stricter checks subsequently imposed by Spain at the border caused long delays.

Britain and Gibraltar argued that the checks were politically motivated, but the European Commission later ruled that the border checks had not infringed European law.

Then in November last year Britain once again formally protested to the Spanish authorities after police opened a diplomatic bag at the border with Gibraltar.

The Foreign Office at the time said diplomatic bags were "inviolable" and opening one was "a serious infringement" of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations.

Spain disputes UK sovereignty over Gibraltar - a limestone outcrop known as the Rock near the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula - which has been ruled by Britain since 1713.

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