A Spanish warship has entered Gibraltarian waters for the third time this month amid ongoing tensions between the UK and Spain over the British territory.
It came hours before an EU meeting at which European leaders agreed that Spain would be given a veto over any Brexit deal that would affect Gibraltar. A separate agreement between London and Madrid would be needed to approve any deal relating to the Rock.
The Spanish corvette "Cazadora" entered Gibraltarian waters at around 9.00am on Saturday, according to The Telegraph. It was met by Royal Navy boats and local police vessels, which escorted it southwards, out of the three-mile zone that Britain claims to be Gibraltar’s territorial waters.
The incident marks the third time in less than a month that Spanish vessels have entered Gibraltarian waters, which Spain does not recognise as legitimate.
On 4 April, the Gibraltarian government complained of an “illegal incursion” into its waters by the Spanish patrol ship Infanta Cristina. On 13 April, the same boat was ordered to leave by the Royal Navy.
Commenting on the latest incident, a spokesperson from the Foreign Office said: “The Royal Navy challenges all unlawful maritime incursions into British Gibraltar Territorial Waters (BGTW) – and did so again on this occasion.
"We back this up by making formal diplomatic protests to the Spanish government. We take these actions to defend our sovereignty over British Gibraltar Territorial Water.”
It comes weeks after a row between Britain and Spain that was triggered when Lord Howard, the former Conservative leader, predicted that Theresa May would defend Gibraltar in the same was that Margaret Thatcher defended the Falklands during the 1982 war with Argentina over the status of the islands.
That led Alfonso Dastis, Spain’s foreign minister, to say his government was ‘”surprised by the tone of comments coming out of Britain” and claim that “someone is losing their cool” in the UK.
On Saturday EU leaders unanimously agreed a series of guidelines for negotiations with the UK over Brexit. These will give Spain the right to veto any trade deal that would have in impact on Gibraltar.
“After the United Kingdom leaves the Union, no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom,” the guidelines state.