Britain to protest unlawful incursion by Spanish warship in Gibraltar waters

A Spanish warship sailed into disputed waters off Gibraltar on Tuesday, the British overseas territory said, at a time of high tension between London and Madrid over the fate of the Rock.

Britain to protest unlawful incursion by Spanish warship in Gibraltar waters
Photo: AFP

Incidents of this nature are not uncommon, but this one comes after a row broke out over Gibraltar last week when the European Union said that Spain should have a veto on extending any trade deal to the territory after Britain leaves the bloc.

Fearing that Spain is trying to take advantage of Brexit to impose its control over the 32,000-strong rocky outcrop on the country's southern tip, Gibraltar reacted angrily, and London pledged its support for a territory ceded to Britain in 1713 but long claimed by Madrid.

Spain, meanwhile, voiced surprise at Britain's tone, and the EU's Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier urged London to “keep calm and negotiate.”   

On Tuesday, the Spanish Navy corvette Infanta Cristina sailed slowly past the Rock about a mile from shore, prompting the Royal Navy to dispatch a patrol boat to the area.

Britain claims three miles of sea around Gilbraltar but Spain says the waters are Spanish.

“Today's illegal incursion by a Spanish naval vessel is a timely demonstration of the way in which Spain routinely conducts itself in breach of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,” a spokesman for Gibraltar's government said.

A British government spokesman, meanwhile, said “the Royal Navy challenges all unlawful maritime incursions into British Gibraltar territorial waters.”    

“We back this up by making formal diplomatic protests to the Spanish government.”

These types of incursions are fairly common in Gibraltar.    

Last November, in response to a question from Conservative peer Lord Patten in the House of Lords, the British government said there had been 434 incursions by Spanish state vessels into Gibraltar waters in the 12 months to October 31st, 2016, the most recent data available.


Gibraltar holds referendum on its draconian abortion laws

Gibraltar heads to the polls on Thursday to vote on plans to ease abortion laws which currently carry possible life sentences for offenders, in a referendum delayed for over a year by the coronavirus pandemic.

Gibraltar holds referendum on its draconian abortion laws
A woman wears a t-shirt reading " Gibraltar for Yes!" outside a polling station in Gibraltar, on June 24, 2021. Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP

The issue has exposed sharply opposing views within this tiny, normally closely-knit British enclave at the southernmost tip of Spain, which is home to some 32,000 people.

The referendum was initially slated for March 19 2020 but a week ahead of the vote it was postponed as virus cases began spiralling at the start of the pandemic.Except in cases where it would save the mother’s life, abortion is currently banned in Gibraltar on pain of life imprisonment, although such a penalty has not been applied in modern times.

The government is proposing changes to the law to allow abortion where a woman’s mental or physical health is at risk — such as in cases of rape or incest — or when foetuses have fatal physical defects.

Although the changes have already been approved by Gibraltar’s parliament, the referendum will decide whether or not that amended law be brought into force.

Under the changes, a woman would be able to undergo an abortion up to 12 weeks into her pregnancy if her mental or physical health is deemed at risk, or beyond if such damage would be grave and permanent.

There would be no time limit on cases involving fatal foetal anomaly.

Until now, women wanting to have an abortion have had to travel to Spain or to Britain to undergo the procedure.

Chief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo and his wife Justine Olivero leave a polling station after casting their ballots. Photo: JORGE GUERRERO/AFP

– ‘In Gibraltar’s best interests’ –

Ahead of the vote, both sides have been campaigning hard, with Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and two other party leaders releasing a video urging people to vote “Yes” to the proposed amendment to the crimes act that will regulate abortions in Gibraltar.

“My personal, professional & political opinion on the abortion referendum: it is in #Gibraltar’s best interests to #VoteYes on Thursday 24th June,” Picardo tweeted.

“No” campaigners have also been rallying support with hundreds of people dressed in pink and purple joining a pro-life “Save Babies, vote no” march through the city centre last week, chanting “We vote no!”

On the ballot, voters will be asked: “Should the Crimes (Amendment) Act 2019, that defines the circumstances which would allow abortion in Gibraltar, come into force?”

If the changes are approved, the law is expected to take effect fairly quickly although officials have not yet laid out a timeline.

The proposed changes came after Britain’s Supreme Court ruled in June 2018 that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws, which at the time were almost identical to Gibraltar’s, were incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

“It is therefore clear that if the equivalent law on abortion in Northern Ireland was in breach of the Convention, our identical, archaic law is too,” wrote Picardo in an op-ed in Wednesday’s Gibraltar Chronicle.

“It is our duty to vote to stop this ongoing breach.”

Picardo has said he believed the changes were long overdue and that the plans would be approved “by a very large majority”.