Theresa May has laughed off suggestions of taking military action against Spain to defend Gibraltar, saying she prefers “jaw-jaw” to war-war.
The Prime Minister quoted Sir Winston Churchill as she dismissed comments made by the former Tory leader Lord Howard that she would show the “same resolve” over Gibraltar as Baroness Thatcher did over the Falkland Islands in 1982.
Making her first comments about the escalating row over sovereignty of the British Overseas Territory, Mrs May said common sense would “win through” when Spain realised that “a good deal for the UK is good for us”.
The row started after EU Brexit negotiating guidelines seemed to allow Spain to stop any deal applying to Gibraltar, a territory to which the country has long laid claim.
Speaking to journalists on a three-day trade and security mission to the Middle East, Mrs May laughed when she was asked whether Britain could end up at war with Spain.
She said: “What we’re doing with all European countries in the European Union is sitting down and talking to them. We’re going to be talking to them about getting the best possible deal for the United Kingdom and for those countries, Spain included.”
Asked whether it was “jaw-jaw rather than war-war” she smiled and said: “It’s definitely jaw-jaw.”
Significantly, the Prime Minister did not rule out the possibility of talks with Spain over Gibraltar's future.
Sir Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, ramped up the rhetoric over Gibraltar at the weekend when he said Britain would go “all the way” to defend The Rock.
The Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, responded by suggesting British ministers were “losing their composure”.
Mrs May was asked if that was true, and replied: “No, our position on Gibraltar has not changed. We are very clear that we support Gibraltar, we’re working with the Government of Gibraltar and will continue to do so.
“We want to negotiate the best possible deal for the UK and the best possible deal for Gibraltar.
“When we negotiate the final [Brexit] deal…there will be 27 member states of the remaining EU that will have to agree that deal with us. But I’m confident that when it comes to agreeing that deal, they’ll see that a good deal for the UK is good for them and good for us. And I think that at the end of the day it’s that that will win through.”