UK Minister for the Armed Forces said that a very, very long and continued presence in Gibraltar, with no defense cuts for the foreseeable future and full support of sovereignty were the key ingredients in the UK message he brought to the Rock. Before meeting Gibraltar authorities the minister took a tour of British Gibraltar waters with the Royal Navy.
“We have a history of defending our sovereignty and I don’t believe that that is a history that we should forget, nor, indeed, should anybody else” said Minister Mark Francois in an interview with the Gibraltar Chronicle.
The minister met with Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and his deputy Dr Joseph Garcia at No 6 following a tour of the Bay of Gibraltar and British Gibraltar waters with the Royal Navy’s Gibraltar Squadron.
Picardo welcomed the visit and said that Minister Francois had been very clear on the MoD’s commitment for the future of the base in Gibraltar. This was something the Government has never doubted but it was “fantastic” to hear it directly from the minister in Gibraltar, he told reporters.
Francois, who also met with members of the Royal Gibraltar Regiment, said of the Royal Navy Gibraltar Squadron “I have been very impressed by what they do”.
“Our links are as close as ever they were and we have been talking about the MoD’s long-term interest to Gibraltar and its people. There are marvelous facilities here and we have been talking about how we can continue to use those facilities to our mutual benefit for very many years,” he said making clear that once the current restructure and cuts are seen through no further changes are envisaged.
“Once we have gone through project Euston I don’t see the base getting any small after that. I believe that it is a key part of our international capability, it provides us with reach. We are very pleased with the facilities that we have. The plans that are in place will be carried through, but I don’t see any further reductions after that, not for foreseeable future. I hope we can provide a reassurance on that.”
“We are here for the long-term. We greatly value everything that Gibraltar contributes to the defense of the United Kingdom and the defense of the West more generally. We are proud to be here and we intend to be here for a very, very long while,” said Francois.
In response to questions the minister made clear that he felt the UK presence in Gibraltar is adequate. Referring to a phrase from his army days that “time spent on reconnaissance is rarely wasted” he said that, having seen the facility himself and looking at the port visits it should be noted that 14 RN surface units had visited in 2013 and there had been six visits of nuclear submarines.
“HMS Bulwark that delivered the Governor here just a few days ago is one of the largest ships in the fleet. So, I believe we have a very regular progress of visits coming in Gibraltar. The Royal Navy have been here for years and they will be here for years” Francois said adding that he had been looking at the point where the Queen Elizabeth carriers will be berthed “when they visit Gibraltar in a few years’ time.”
“It will be lovely to see 65,000 tons of aircraft carrier within the harbors of Gibraltar, as a number of our aircraft carriers have been there down the years”.