HMS WESTMINSTER has arrived in Gibraltar this morning after a flotilla of more than 30 Spanish fishing boats were involved in a stand-off with UK military and police boats on Sunday.
The type 23 frigate is scheduled to spend three days on the Rock before a long-planned international training exercise in the Mediterranean and Gulf.
Meanwhile Edward Macquisten, chief executive of the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce said the row has set relations between Spain and the territory back 40 years, and it was also having an impact on Gibraltar’s high season tourist trade, which usually sees hordes of British visitors from Spanish resorts.
The visit of the wrship comes after weeks of mounting tensions and, in particular, Gibraltar’s decision to create an artificial reef just off the Rock.
The installation of a series of concrete blocks aimed to conserve fish stocks, but prompted accusations from Spain that it would stop fishermen being able to earn a living.
In an unprecedented move, special teams of Spanish customs officials were then deployed on the border, stopping and searching all traffic and pedestrians leaving Gibraltar for contraband.
This has led to huge queues over the last fortnight as people waited up to six hours to leave the Rock in the sweltering summer sun.
The border delays were accompanied by strong words from Foreign Minister Garcia-Margallo who declared that ‘The party was over’ for Gibraltar.
In a raft of draconian measures he said he was proposing a €50 fee for crossing the border, as well as flights into the Rock being denied access to Spanish airspace
The provocation was seen by many observers as a move by leader Mariano Rajoy to divert attention away from his own domestic difficulties, including the ongoing economic crisis and his personal involvement in the Barcenas ‘black money’ scandal.
Foreign Secretary William Hague has said the UK stands ‘shoulder to shoulder with the people of Gibraltar at this time of increasing Spanish pressure.’
Recently Gibraltar’s First Minister Fabian Picardo accused Madrid of ‘sabre-rattling’ and creating a climate akin to the days of dictator Franco.
He said: “The things that (foreign secretary) Garcia Margallo has said are more reminiscent of the type of statements you hear from North Korea than from an EU partner.
“What we have seen this weekend is sabre-rattling of a sort we have not seen for some time. It is the politics of madness.”