HMS Westminster’s visit is part of routine deployment but arrival will be seen as show of support from London
A Royal Navy warship arrived in Gibraltar on Monday morning, 24 hours after Spanish boats staged a protest in British waters around the Rock as part of the ongoing dispute about the creation of a new concrete reef.
HMS Westminster, which approached the port flanked by two smaller British vessels, is officially visiting as part of a routine deployment in the Mediterranean, but its arrival will be seen as a show of support from London for Gibraltar in its increasingly acrimonious dispute with the Spanish.
Spain says the concrete reef will damage the interests of Spanish fishermen and it has retaliated by imposing delays at the border crossing. Britain has complained that these measures are “disproportionate” and it has asked the European commission to intervene.
HMS Westminster, a type 23 frigate, was accompanied by the Royal Fleet Auxillary ships Lyme Bay and Mounts Bay when it reached the Rock. The ships are part of a taskforce of 10 vessels that left Portsmouth and Plymouth last week for long-planned exercises in the Mediterranean called Cougar 13.
As HMS Westminster came into port, some Gibraltar residents were on the quayside to welcome her waving union flags.
Andrea Jones, 46, who works for an online gaming company and has lived in Gibraltar for 12 years, said that the frigate’s arrival was “a two-fingered salute towards Spain”.
She went on: “We are constantly used to Spain being disgruntled about one thing or another. This time I think they have taken it that little step further and put more border queues on, they have been more stringent. They have been quite nasty, to be quite honest.”
Retired Royal Gibraltar police officer Michael Sanchez, 53, said he would like to see British warships off Gibraltar more often. The dispute with Spain was getting “out of control” and “not a spat any more”, he said.
“If you park something out there grey [a warship] for a couple of days you can see them [the Spanish] calm down,” he said.
“These guys need to be taught a lesson. It is no good having [William] Hague, [David] Cameron sending protests galore. You have got to stick your nose in there, your face into their face. If not they just get away with it.”
In an article in a German paper on Monday, Fabian Picardo, Gibraltar’s chief minister, accused the Spanish government of escalating the dispute to distract attention from corruption allegations against the ruling People’s party.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Picardo said the delays imposed by the Spanish at the border crossing were unacceptable.
“The officiousness of what is going on now is so clearly directed politically, and it’s quite unfair because it’s being visited on innocent people that need to cross the frontier,” he said.