Off his rocker? Former Tory leader warns Madrid PM would use force

Lord Michael Howard during a Brexit and the Future conference at the BPP University in central Londo

Lord Michael Howard during a Brexit and the Future conference at the BPP University in central London. - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Lord Michael Howard has compared the row over Gibraltar to the Falklands War after the PM failed to mention the Rock in her Brexit letter

Just days after Theresa May formally triggered Britain's exit from the European Union the debate has already descended in to threats of military action after a former Tory leader compared Gibraltar to the Falklands.

Lord Michael Howard made the extraordinary claim after the Prime Minister failed to mention the British overseas territory in her Article 50 letter to European Council President Donald Tusk.

This prompted the EU to insert a clause into the response outlining that Spain – which has a long-standing territorial claim on Gibraltar – would be given a veto over the Rock's participation in a future deal.

May's decision to ignore Gibraltar in the letter has prompted a fierce backlash at home but Lord Howard's hawkish intervention is likely to be met with both amazement and anger in Brussels and beyond.

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Speaking to Sky News Lord Howard said: 'Thirty-five years ago this week, another woman prime minister sent a task force halfway across the world to defend the freedom of another small group of British people against another Spanish-speaking country, and I'm absolutely certain that our current prime minister will show the same resolve in standing by the people of Gibraltar.'

Meanwhile many people in Gibraltar - who voted overwhelmingly both to remain under British rule in 2002 and to remain in the EU last year – fear the future of the territory could be on the bargaining table during Brexit talks after the PM's blunder.

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The growing controversy led May to speak with Gibraltar's leader Fabian Picardo to tell him the UK remained 'absolutely dedicated to working with Gibraltar for the best possible outcome on Brexit'.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said the PM 'reiterated our long-standing position that the UK remains steadfastly committed to our support for Gibraltar, its people and its economy'.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: 'It is unbelievable that within a week of triggering Article 50 there are Conservatives already discussing potential wars with our European neighbours.

'In only a few days the Conservative right are turning long-term allies into potential enemies. I hope this isn't a sign of the Government's approach to the long negotiations to come. Brexiteers have gone from cheering to sabre rattling for war in four days, it is absolutely ludicrous.'

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said: 'Inflammatory comments like those by Michael Howard will not help Britain get what it needs from these difficult Brexit negotiations.

'Sadly, it's typical of the botched Tory approach which threatens a bad deal for Britain.

'Labour is clear that the sovereignty of Gibraltar must be protected and that the interests of British citizens in Gibraltar are safeguarded.'

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