The HMS Ambush docked in Gibraltar on Saturday, a day after the Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo repeated Madrid’s claim of sovereignty over the territory.
Speaking in the wake of Britain’s decision to leave the EU, Garcia said Brexit had opened up “new possibilities on Gibraltar not seen for a very long time.”
The UK navy claimed that the attack submarine’s visit to the Rock was long planned, but analysts believe that it was a clear message by London to Madrid that UK’s position on Gibraltar is not likely to change.
This is while UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond warned on Sunday that protecting the territory would be harder after leaving the bloc.
“’We will be less able to protect Gibraltar’s interests – not defend Gibraltar’s territory, of course we can do that, but to protect Gibraltar’s interests – if we are not inside the European Union,” he told ITV.
The Foreign Office has assured Gibraltarians that the UK will “continue to stand beside Gibraltar” and will never negotiate the Rock’s sovereignty against the will of its people.
The enclave participated in Thursday’s EU referendum as a British overseas territory within the EU, and voted almost unanimously to remain in the bloc, casting 19,322 votes for Remain against just 823 for ‘Leave’ – an overwhelming 95.9 percent
Following the vote, Julie Girling, the South West England and Gibraltar Conservative MEP and a fierce Remain campaigner, said, “I am deeply sorry that the people of the UK have chosen this leap in the dark. I believe future generations will question our wisdom.”
Gibraltar, with a population of over 30,000, is located on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula and has an area of 6.7 square kilometers (2.6 square miles).
The territory was ceded to Britain in 1713 as part of the Treaty of Utrecht. But Spain over the past decades has made it clear that it wants Gibraltar back.