There was a marked escalation in the dispute over Gibraltar’s territorial waters as Britain and Spain both hardened their diplomatic stance in the wake of recent incursions.
Spain’s ambassador to London was summoned to the Foreign Office on Thursday morning and told Spain must end its incursions into British Gibraltar territorial waters.
Hours later, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Madrid reciprocated by summoning Britain’s ambassador to the Spanish capital to express its concern over recent events and reiterate its position on the sovereignty of the waters.
In Gibraltar, Britain’s decision to summon the Spanish ambassador was welcomed unanimously by the Gibraltar Parliament following an emergency statement by Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, who said the move reflected the seriousness of the situation.
But the Chief Minister said Britain must now follow up its words with actions and bolster its naval presence here.
“It is appropriate that the diplomatic response to these belligerent acts should have been up-scaled as it has,” Mr Picardo said.
“It is equally important for Gibraltar, as much as it is for the credibility of British diplomacy, that these diplomatic steps should be backed up by actions designed to assert the indisputable British sovereignty of the waters in question.”
“There will therefore be unanimity across the floor of this House in the call for the Ministry of Defence to be able to deploy in Gibraltar as soon as possible the assets necessary to ensure the defence of these waters against the armed vessels and agents of the Spanish state.”
Federico Trillo, the Spanish ambassador and a former PP minister in the government of Jose Maria Aznar, was summoned to the FCO by its Permanent Under Secretary, Simon Fraser.
During the meeting Mr Fraser, the FCO top civil servant, underlined Britain’s deep concern following two incidents earlier this week. The meeting was the first time that Britain had called in the Spanish ambassador for a dressing down over the incursions.
In London, the FCO also issued a statement that left little doubt that Britain was fast losing patience with Spain over its activities in the Bay of Gibraltar.
David Lidington, Britain’s Minister for Europe, said that the latest incidents came despite repeated diplomatic protests over Spain’s attempt to exercise jurisdiction in Gibraltar waters.
“I condemn these provocative incursions and urge the Spanish government to ensure that they are not repeated,” Mr Lidington said.
But the Spanish government also reacted calling in the British ambassador to Madrid but since Giles Paxman was not in Madrid the meeting with Santiago Cabana, the director general of foreign policy at the MFA, was attended by his deputy.
The British official was told of the Spanish government’s concern at recent developments in Gibraltar waters and also made it clear that Spanish fishermen would continue to fish “in Spanish waters” as they had always done, according to Spanish sources.