Downing St seeks a 'quick resolution' to Gibraltar
Downing Street has declined to rule out the use of retaliatory political action against Spain if its diplomatic row with Britain over Gibraltar is not resolved quickly.
Three Royal Navy ships, led by frigate HMS Westminster, have arrived at the British Overseas Territory the day after more than 40 commercial Spanish boats staged a protest over a controversial reef which sparked the disagreement and led to retaliatory delays at the border.
It has been reported that UK officials are examining the potential to disrupt Spain's lucrative tourist industry as well as blocking its policy initiatives at the EU.
Pressed repeatedly on the potential for such action, a Number 10 spokesman told reporters: "Our preference here is to resolve this via political means and through dialogue with the Spanish government.
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"We clearly want to reach a quick resolution which is acceptable and brings an end to these totally disproportionate border checks."
Asked if David Cameron was confident of securing a swift resolution, he said: "We will do what we need to do to bring this to a satisfactory conclusion."
Type 23 frigate HMS Westminster is now in Gibraltar along with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships Mounts Bay and Lyme Bay for a scheduled visit ahead of the Cougar 13 exercises in the Mediterranean.
Cougar 13 is a long-planned deployment involving four Royal Navy warships, the lead commando group from 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines and elements of naval air squadrons.
The operation also includes the helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious and the navy's flagship HMS Bulwark.
A Spanish Guardia Civil patrol boat passed close to the military area of Gibraltar harbour not long after HMS Westminster arrived this morning.
The Spanish boat passed outside the harbour walls in Gibraltar Bay before speeding off when a police launch approached it.
Sunday's protest prompted calls for renewed efforts, involving the European Union, to solve the diplomatic dispute which has seen Madrid introduce additional checks at the border in protest, leaving workers and tourists facing hours in queues to get through.
The Number 10 spokesman said the Prime Minister wanted the EU to send monitors to the border "urgently".
"We are still actively pursuing legal action. If we do pursue it, the first step would be for the European Commission to investigate the issue. That is why the Prime Minister spoke to President (Jose Manuel) Barroso.
Julie Girling, the Conservative MEP for the South West and Gibraltar, is in the territory for talks with local politicians.
"I think what the people of Gibraltar have really appreciated with the arrival of Westminster today, and the two support ships, is that it is flying the flag, it is saying 'we British people support the Gibraltarians, we are not abandoning you', and that has been very, very welcome," she said.
"If this situation continues, if the pressure on Gibraltar continues, then of course I think the people of Gibraltar would like to see a bit more of that."
Locals waving Union flags gathered on the quayside to watch the grey warship make its way through the bay into the harbour, where they cheered it in.
It was followed in later in the morning by the two RFA support vessels.
Andrea Jones, 46, works for an online gaming company and has lived in Gibraltar for 12 years. She said the frigate's arrival was "a two-fingered salute towards Spain".
"I think the Gibraltarians are tending to be a bit more passionate at this moment in time," she said. "We are constantly used to Spain being disgruntled about one thing or another. This time I think they have taken it that little step further and put more border queues on, they have been more stringent.
"They have been quite nasty, to be quite honest."
Retired Royal Gibraltar Police officer Michael Sanchez, 53, said he would like to see British warships off Gibraltar more often.
"It is getting to be out of control, it is not a spat any more," he said. "It's a normal deployment but we need bigger assets to show them.
"If you park something out there grey (a warship) for a couple of days you can see them (the Spanish) calm down. I know that, I have seen it." He added: "These guys need to be taught a lesson.
"It is no good having (William) Hague, (David) Cameron sending protests galore. You have got to stick your nose in there, your face into their face. If not they just get away with it."