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Since the UK formally left the European Union back in January, Britain and Spain are facing a decisive phase of technical negotiations on Gibraltar’s future. As diplomatic tensions rise, there has been a significant increase of military activity on the Rock.
This week, the HMS Kent – a 133-metre-long Duke-class frigate – left the British naval base to carry out “surface exercises with high-speed manoeuvres” in waters adjacent to the Rock.
Following this, the HMS Dragon, a latest generation Daring-class air defence destroyer and 155 metres in length, also entered Gibraltar.
Back in September, the military exercise known as ‘Gibraltar Strike’ took place and included “the practice of rope jumping from helicopters and urban combat training”.
In a statement, the Royal Navy said: “Covid restrictions are limiting many of the staple fixtures of a visit to the Rock largely to a re-fuel/re-supply stop.
“But there will be the opportunity for the Royal Marines to stretch their legs for the first time on this deployment,
“Gibraltar Strike includes abseiling from helicopters and urban combat training making use of the facilities/ranges on the Rock as the Royal Marines continue their transition to Future Commando Force.”
The Future Commando Force is a modernisation programme which has seen the creation of a new unit, uniform and new technology being tested.
Commodore Rob Pedre, Commander of the UK’s Littoral Strike Group, said: “Sailing into Gibraltar is a real highlight at the start of our deployment.
“We greatly value the support and welcome that Gibraltar provides, especially as we prepare for wide-ranging operations in the Mediterranean Sea.”
Gibraltar is a British overseas territory but is also the subject of a territorial claim by Spain.
It was a subject of contention during the divorce talks where the Spanish government was accused of using Brexit to snatch back the territory.
Under the terms of the withdrawal agreement, Spain had a veto over Gibraltar benefiting from any future trade and security agreement with the Government and Brussels.
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Gibraltar’s chief minister Fabian Picardo previously insisted the Rock could “easily” strike a deal with the EU if David Frost and Michel Barnier fail to reach an agreement.
Mr Picardo said: “The legalities are easy.
“The law is there to create the agreement that each relevant party wishes and the existing treaty obligations permit.
“There is nothing insurmountable for Gibraltar in that respect and in keeping with our red lines.
“But if we are in that territory, what is complex to start with will become devilishly difficult in some respects.”
Tory MP Andrew Rosindell, who is chairman of the British Overseas Territories All Party Parliamentary Group, previously told Express.co.uk: “The Spanish will use the EU to try to exclude Gibraltar from agreements with the UK, there is no doubt about that, this is what they do.
“The government in Gibraltar is pro-EU, although they are also totally dedicated to remaining British and will put that before any ties with the EU.
“Personally, I cannot see how Gibraltar could have any kind of separate ties with the EU, separate from the UK.
“This would be a dangerous road for Gibraltar to go down, they should in my view, stick as closely to Britain as possible.
“Without Britain, Gibraltar would be Spanish, so Gibraltarians will be highly suspicious of anything that weakens the links they have with the UK.”
Additional reporting by Maria Ortega
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