Defence cuts mean the Royal Navy would struggle to send warships to Gibraltar amid tensions with Spain over the Rock, it was claimed today.
The warning comes amid a dispute with Madrid over Gibraltar’s sovereignty.
Relations between the British territory and Spain have deteriorated in recent months in a row over fishing grounds, with Spanish ministers raising the prospect of imposing a £43 levy on vehicles crossing the border and the possibility of closing airspace.
Mike Critchley, a former naval officer and book publisher from Gosport, told The News: ‘In times past the navy would have had a presence down there, but now the navy is tremendously reduced.
‘The navy can’t meet all its commitments.
‘Ships do go there, submarines go there, and there are some small patrol vessels.
‘But it is a difficult situation, we’re talking about two NATO countries, two EU countries, so obviously the government is just going to be watching what happens at the moment.
‘The navy can’t do a lot about it. This has been going on for a while Someone has got to bang heads together.’
The government has insisted there will be no compromise over the sovereignty of Gibraltar, and foreign secretary William Hague has vowed to stand shoulder to shoulder with its citizens in response to heightened pressure and increasingly belligerent rhetoric from Madrid.
Last night, Mr Hague reiterated the UK’s commitment to the people of Gibraltar after speaking to Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo.
He said: ‘I emphasised to Gibraltar’s elected Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, that the UK stands shoulder to shoulder with the people of Gibraltar at this time of increasing Spanish pressure and rhetoric.
‘I also highlighted that we will respect Gibraltar’s 2006 Constitution and the commitments the UK has repeatedly made not to compromise on British sovereignty over Gibraltar.
‘We discussed the need for a political solution to the current tension with Spain, which would be firmly in the interests of communities on both sides of Gibraltar’s border with Spain.
‘I call upon Spain to respect the agreements made at Cordoba and to avoid actions which could increase tension further.
‘We agreed that it was important to respond to actions, not rhetoric, and I confirmed that we would continue to raise our concerns with Spain.’