British MPs from across the political spectrum sent “an extremely powerful message” to the Spanish Government voicing anger at its treatment of Gibraltar and its people. Parliamentarians from all the major British political parties spoke in unison to decry Spanish belligerence toward the Rock during a 40-minute emergency session in the House of Commons.
Foreign Office minister Mark Simmonds faced a battery of questions on Britain’s response to persistent border queues and Spanish incursions into Gibraltar waters.
Simmonds was called to the Commons to answer an urgent question by Tory MP Bob Neill after a 22-hour maritime incursion led the Foreign Office to summon Spain’s ambassador to London for a dressing down on Tuesday night.
“The strength of feeling in all corners of this House about the unacceptability of the Spanish behavior related to Gibraltar is an extremely powerful message to send to the Spanish Government and to others in Spain who wish to make life difficult for the people of Gibraltar,” Mr Simmonds said at the end of a lively parliamentary session.
During the exchanges, the junior Foreign Office minister stressed the UK’s longstanding commitment to the people of Gibraltar on British sovereignty and self-determination. He underscored Britain’s desire to return to three-way cross-border dialogue and cooperation, but insisted that the British Government would stand up to Spain in defense of the Rock.
“We stand ready to do whatever is required to protect Gibraltar’s sovereignty, economy and security,” Mr Simmonds said.
“We believe that it is in the interests of Spain, Gibraltar and Britain to avoid incidents such as this [incursion] that damage the prospects for establishing dialogue and cooperation.”
“The UK wants to maintain our strong bilateral relation with Spain, which stretches across a range of areas and delivers support for UK and Gibraltarian interests.”
“However the Spanish Government are wrong if they believe that they can advance Spain’s position on sovereignty by increasing pressure on Gibraltar, whether at the border or through unlawful incursions or by other actions such as complaints and posturing at the EU.”
But Mr Simmonds also insisted repeatedly that while Britain would stand “shoulder to shoulder” with Gibraltar, it would not escalate a dispute that he said must be resolved through “political and diplomatic mechanisms.”
While some MPs acknowledged that firm diplomacy was the best option, others called for a tougher response from the UK.
Labor MP Gareth Thomas, the shadow minister for foreign and commonwealth affairs, made clear that the Commons was unified in its criticism of Spain’s position on Gibraltar.
“Spain is an ally of ours in NATO, it’s an ally often in the European Council and it’s an ally of ours on the world stage, so its actions on Gibraltar are even more reprehensible in that context,” he said. “The Spanish Government should be in no doubt at all that all sides of this House share the anger about yesterday’s events.”