War with Spain was not on the ballot paper when Britons went to the polls in last year’s referendum and voted to withdraw from the European Union.
But Prime Minister Theresa May was forced to rule out the prospect of military action to defend the British enclave of Gibraltar on Monday, after a former leader of her Conservative Party seemed to suggest that might be necessary to keep Spain from demanding the territory’s return as part of the deal to allow the United Kingdom to trade freely with remaining E.U. members.
Speaking on Sunday, Michael Howard, who is now a member of the House of Lords, suggested that if Spain tried to assert sovereignty over the outpost, the British prime minister could emulate her predecessor, Margaret Thatcher, who used force to keep control of another Spanish-speaking nation, Argentina, from seizing another British enclave, the Falklands.
— SophyRidge On Sunday (@RidgeOnSunday) April 2, 2017
In a subsequent appearance on Britain’s Channel 4 News, Howard said that he was not calling for war, but because the E.U. had referred to Gibraltar in their draft guidelines for the talks over Britain’s exit, “I can see no harm in reminding them what sort of people we are.”
"I see no harm in reminding them what sort of people we are."
Lord Howard after being accused of "sabre-rattling" over Gibraltar. pic.twitter.com/QqO5FkGvSg
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) April 2, 2017
This jingoistic talk, which was echoed by a retired British admiral and lapped up by England’s right-wing press, was widely mocked by Britons who see Brexit as a descent into nationalist fantasy and nostalgia for an imperial past.
— Isolated Brit (@IsolatedBrit) April 3, 2017
'Up yours senors' whilst advertising £15 holidays to Spain – everything wrong with this country summed up in a massive display of shit pic.twitter.com/xkumIDinD0
— Daily Mail Comments (@BestoftheMail) April 3, 2017
Bare minimum of two years negotiations. Senior Brexiter apparently talking war with Spain in the first week. Spain.
— James O'Brien (@mrjamesob) April 3, 2017
POLL: Now that Britain is to once again be a SOVEREIGN NATION, which historic enemy should we start a war with first?
— Robert Hutton (@RobDotHutton) April 2, 2017
Why are we going to war with Spain? Still 22 countries in the world Britain hasn't gone to war with. No times for do-overs. pic.twitter.com/S6vwVQo54i
— Chris Terry (@CJTerry) April 2, 2017
— David Schneider (@davidschneider) April 2, 2017
Before the laughter had died down, the leader of the Brexit campaign, Boris Johnson, stepped before the cameras in his role as Britain’s foreign minister to insist that the sovereignty of Gibraltar “cannot conceivably change without the express support and consent of the people of Gibraltar.”
— Sky News (@SkyNews) April 3, 2017
Strangely, Johnson made no mention of the fact that the people of Gibraltar are about to be forced out of the European Union against their will, since 96 percent of them voted against Brexit in last year’s referendum.
Before Monday was out, however, the prime minister’s spokesman, Greg Swift, felt it necessary to explain that a British naval task force sailing to defend Gibraltar from Spain, just “isn’t going to happen.”