Warship given Gibraltar deployment
A British warship will visit Gibraltar later this month, amid increased tensions in the overseas territory with Spain.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed HMS Westminster and two ships will visit Gibraltar while other elements of a task force will visit Spanish ports as part of training exercises known as Cougar 13.
The MoD said the deployment is "long-planned" and not connected to the political tensions in the region, which have flared up following talk from Madrid that a 50 euro (£43.30) fee could be imposed on every vehicle entering or leaving the British Mediterranean outpost through its border with Spain.
There have also been allegations of damage to fishing grounds caused by Gibraltarian authorities following the creation of an artificial reef while checks at the Rock's border with Spain have resulted in lengthy queues.
Gibraltar's chief minister, Fabian Picardo, has likened the Spanish behaviour to something from the Franco era or the regime in North Korea.
A No 10 source said David Cameron made Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy aware the "routine deployment" of ships to the Rock would be happening when the pair spoke on Wednesday.
Cougar 13 involves the UK's response force task group and seeks to hone skills through various exercises, the MoD said. It is in its third year. Four Royal Navy warships, the lead commando group from 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines and elements of naval air squadrons will be supported by six vessels from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "The Royal Navy's annual Cougar deployment is long-planned and well-established. Gibraltar is a strategic base for UK Defence and as such Royal Navy ships visit its waters throughout the year as part of a range of regular and routine deployments.
"Elements of last year's Cougar 12 deployment visited Gibraltar and the forthcoming visit by ships making up Cougar 13, including HMS Westminster and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships Lyme Bay and Mounts Bay, are business as usual."
Mr Cameron told Mr Rajoy the situation at the border with Gibraltar was "not acceptable" as the two leaders held talks aimed at calming tensions. No 10 said that in the "constructive" phone call Mr Rajoy agreed to reducing measures at the border which have led to lengthy delays for Gibraltarians, but a statement issued by the Spanish government made no reference to any such concession and insisted procedures at the frontier were proportionate.