A Spanish warship entered Gibraltar’s territorial waters early on Saturday morning, just hours before a meeting of European Union leaders approved their guidelines for negotiating a Brexit deal with the United Kingdom that allows Spain to veto its application to the Rock.
At around 9am the Spanish corvette ‘Cazadora’ entered waters off Gibraltar, where Royal Navy and local police launches sailed out to meet it.
According to observers, the corvette was escorted southward out of the Bay of Gibraltar, ending what was the third such incursion by Spanish warships this month.
It is understood the ship is no longer in Gibraltan waters after it was chased away by Royal Navy crews.
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.”
On April 4, the Spanish patrol ship Infanta Cristina made what Gibraltar’s government described as an “illegal incursion” into waters off the Rock, and on April 13 the same Spanish vessel was ordered to leave Gibraltarian waters by the Royal Navy.
Spain does not recognise Gibraltar’s right to territorial waters, arguing that there is no specific mention in the 171 Treaty of Utrecht that granted British sovereignty over the Rock.
Britain has declared that Gibraltar has sovereignty over a “sea belt” adjacent to its coast of three miles, less than the maximum of 12 miles under international law owing to the proximity of Spanish territorial waters.
The leaders of 27 EU countries took just 15 minutes to approve the guidelines for the upcoming talks with the UK government on the terms of Brexit as published by European Council President Donald Tusk on March 31.
The document states that “no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom”, effectively meaning that Madrid can veto the application of a trade deal with Gibraltar while negotiating for a change in the British territory’s status.
The Spanish government has proposed joint sovereignty, something Gibraltar’s population has roundly rejected in the past.