The chilling threat was made in April 2017 by Rear Admiral Chris Parry, who claimed that in the event of a conflict over Gibraltar, the UK would easily come out on top. He told the Telegraph in 2017: “We could cripple Spain in the medium term and I think the Americans would probably support us too. “In terms of military capability we would vastly outnumber them and our capacity to do them harm is far greater.
“We are significantly more powerful than them, if it came to it we are probably three times more powerful than they are.”
The former Royal Navy officer said that he did not expect conflict to ensue over the region, but said that the UK Government should invest in its defence.
The comments came as Gibraltar found itself at the centre of the Brexit argument after Brussels guidelines published at the time stated that Spain would be granted a veto over any EU deal applying to the Rock.
The European Council’s Article 50 guidelines state the EU cannot reach an agreement with the UK over Gibraltar without Madrid’s approval.
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It reads: “After the United Kingdom leaves the Union, no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom.”
Despite this, then Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, reassured Gibraltarians it would always remain a British territory.
He told the Andrew Marr Show: “There cannot be a change in the status of Gibraltar unless the people agree to it. And they don’t. Gibraltar is going to be protected all the way.”
The Rock has emerged once more as a key issue of debate in Brexit talks.
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Spain has a key interest in the future of the territory, as approximately 10,000 Spaniards travel to Gibraltar as cross-border workers.
This means Gibraltarians will also be looking for a seamless transition, as the region relies on these workers, as well as money, goods, and services via access to the single market.
With Prime Minister Boris Johnson aiming to take the UK out of the single market, he will have to strike a deal which prevents a hard border between Spain and Gibraltar.
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But unlike Northern Ireland, detail on Gibraltar’s future as the UK leaves the EU remains less clear, and could be complicated by Spain’s advantageous starting point in negotiations.
Madrid has previously stated that for Gibraltar to keep its vital access to the single market, Spain would demand co-sovereignty over the region for at least a temporary period.
Worse for the UK, now that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has taken the country out of the EU, Brussels will now side with Spain in any territorial dispute over Gibraltar.
While Britain was a member of the bloc, the EU had been obliged to remain neutral on the issue.