Prime Minister Theresa May has given her full support to Gibraltar remaining a part of the UK after Brexit, despite the European Union’s draft guidelines saying Spain will receive a veto on issues affecting the peninsula.
May told Gibraltar’s chief minister, Fabian Picardo, on Sunday she “remains steadfastly committed to our support for Gibraltar, its people and its economy”, a spokesperson said.
The fate of Gibraltar, a British overseas territory, was thrown into doubt by the EU’s response to the invocation of Article 50, which said the EU would not be able to make any decision affecting Gibraltar without the agreement of Spain.
Read more: Britain could lose Gibraltar in Brexit deal
The spokesperson added: “The Prime Minister said we will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes, nor will we ever enter into a process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content.”
Meanwhile Lord Howard, one of May's predecessors as Conservative party leader, said the UK would go to war in defence of Gibraltar if prompted.
Spain’s important and potentially disruptive part in the Brexit process was underlined by the country’s foreign minister who took a slightly more flexible stance with regard to opposition to Scottish independence in an interview with Madrid-based newspaper El Pais.
Alfonso Dastis said Scotland will leave the EU with the rest of the UK, but added that an independent Scotland could reapply for membership.
Spain had previously been outspoken in its opposition to Scottish membership of the EU. The country does not want to set a precedent which could aid Catalan separatists in their battle to secede.
The British government has been firm in its desire to prevent Brexit from breaking up the UK.
Spain has long coveted the peninsula, often known as the Rock of Gibraltar, at its southern tip, which was ceded to Britain in 1713.
It has repeatedly called for Gibraltar to be returned to Spanish hands, despite residents overwhelmingly rejecting becoming part of Spain in multiple referendums.
However, the EU referendum was quickly seized on by Spanish politicians to call for a change in how Gibraltar is governed.
Some 95.9 per cent of the people of Gibraltar voted to remain in the EU in the 23 June referendum, while 62 per cent of Scots voted to remain.
May said Gibraltar will be fully involved in the Brexit process.