Royal Navy ships will visit Gibraltar amid tensions with Spain

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Royal Navy warships are to visit Gibraltar amid rising tensions between Britain and Spain, it has emerged.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has confirmed HMS Westminster and two other ships will visit the territory while other elements of their task force will visit Spanish ports.

The visits come as part of a training exercise called Cougar 13.

The MoD has stressed the deployment is ‘long-planned’ and not connected to political tensions in the region, which have flared up recently following talk from Madrid that a £43 fee could be imposed on every vehicle entering and leaving the British Mediterranean outpost through its border with Spain.

A No 10 source said David Cameron made Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy aware the ‘routine deployment’ of ships to the Rock would be happening when the pair spoke yesterday.

Cougar 13 involves the UK’s response force task group and seeks to hone the navy’s skills through various exercises, the MoD said.

Four Royal Navy warships, including HMS Illustrious and HMS Westminster, the lead commando group from 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines and elements of naval air squadrons will be supported by six vessels from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: ‘The Royal Navy’s annual Cougar deployment is long-planned and well-established.

‘Gibraltar is a strategic base for UK Defence and as such Royal Navy ships visit its waters throughout the year as part of a range of regular and routine deployments.

‘Elements of last year’s Cougar 12 deployment visited Gibraltar and the forthcoming visit by ships making up Cougar 13, including HMS Westminster and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships Lyme Bay and Mounts Bay, are business as usual.

‘At the same time, other elements of the task force will be visiting Spanish ports as part of the exercises.

‘The same phase of the deployment will also see port visits in Portugal and throughout the Mediterranean to Spain, Turkey and Malta before onward transit to the Middle East.’