Spanish warship enters UK waters around Gibraltar as 'show of strength' amid tourist quarantine row with UK, says ex-Royal Navy head

FOREIGN secretary Dominic Raab is facing fresh calls to take ‘diplomatic’ action to ‘defend British sovereignty’ in a bid to stop Spanish warships ignoring UK boundaries around Gibraltar.

By Tom Cotterill
Tuesday, 28th July 2020, 3:59 pm
Updated Wednesday, 29th July 2020, 11:24 pm

The plea comes after a Spanish navy vessel was spotted entering the contested waters around the British territory this morning, The News can exclusively reveal.

The 1,200-tonne patrol ship Serviola P-71 was identified on ship-tracking radar briefly skirting within the three nautical-mile border east of the British-owned peninsula.

It’s the latest such incursion, following on from an incident last month in which another Spanish warship had to be escorted out of UK waters by the Royal Navy.

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Pictured is a Commando helicopter force Merlin Mk3 helicopter and HMS Scimitar, a Scimitar-class fast patrol boat, conducting reassurance and demonstration of UK sovereignty in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters in 2016. Photo: Royal Navy.

It comes amid a political fallout between Spain and Whitehall after the UK government imposed a 14-day quarantine on all tourists coming back from the country amid fears of a second wave of coronavirus in the country.

Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez today branded the move ‘unjust’ and said he was now ‘talking with British authorities to try to get them to reconsider’ the decision, insisting Spain was ‘safe’.

But a former head of the Royal Navy has accused the Spanish of using their warships to pile on political pressure on the UK.

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Gibraltarian Stephen Sedgwick raises the Gibraltar flag outside the Civic Offices in Portsmouth for National Gibraltar Day. Picture: Ian Hargreaves (132448-1)

Admiral Lord Alan West feared the latest Spanish incursion was being used as a show of ‘strength’.

He told The News: ‘We really should be taking complaints to a political and diplomatic level.

‘It’s not in Spain’s interests to stir this trouble up but of course some of the political class believe that if there is trouble going on in Spain, with disagreements about whether there should be two weeks of lockdown when tourists go there, then it’s a way they think they can apply pressure and show themselves to be strong to their own population.’

It’s believed today’s incident is the 19th time a Spanish warship has breached the British territory this year.

Admiral Lord Alan West, former First Sea Lord.

Portsmouth campaigner Stephen Sedgwick, who lived in Gibraltar for 35 years before moving to Buckland’s Malta Road, has now demanded action.

The 50-year-old told The News: ‘Something needs to be done. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office needs to come down hard on Spain because it is now beyond a joke.

‘We’re having incursions every single day, from the Guardia Civil (civil guard), to the Spanish customs boats and their navy.

‘If this was the Falklands it would be a completely different kettle of fish. It’s just a joke.’

Lord West added: ‘It’s threatening to the extent that it shows an attitude of mind which is that the Spanish don’t accept the agreement that’s been in place for just over 300 years that Gibraltar belongs to the UK.’

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said incursions were a ‘violation of sovereignty, not a threat to it’.

A spokesman added: ‘We have no doubt about UK sovereignty over British Gibraltar territorial waters and protest incursions to the Spanish authorities.’

The news follows the announcement by the Ministry of Defence that it is investing £9m to build two new patrol boats, to replace the current Gibraltar Squadron fast patrol craft based there.

Work on the two craft began earlier this month, with both vessels expected to take about 18 months each to build.

They will take over from the Archer-class vessels HMS Pursuer and Dasher, which recently arrived at ‘The Rock’.

Defence procurement minister Jeremy Quin, who is in charge of buying all the UK’s new military kit, said: ‘These new vessels will enable the Royal Navy to maintain the security of British Gibraltar Territorial Waters and protect British, Nato and allied ships transiting through the region.’

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