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UK to protest Spanish naval ship that played national anthem in front of Gibraltar

London says complaint is over the incursion into Gibraltarian waters, which Spain does not recognize

The video of the navy ship playing the Spanish national anthem.

The United Kingdom will file a formal complaint over the Spanish naval ship that played the Spanish national anthem as it sailed past Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory in the south of the Iberian peninsula.

The British Ambassador to Spain, Simon Manley, told EL PAÍS that the complaint will be filed “in the next few days” but insisted it was not to do with the national anthem itself, but rather because British authorities believe Spain strayed into Gibraltarian waters. Spain does not recognize that Gibraltar has waters under its jurisdiction and so argues there was no incursion.

Some military sources said it was a response to somebody playing God Save the Queen on an emergency channel

On Tuesday, the navy patrol vessel Infanta Elena passed through waters next to Gibraltar that UK authorities say belong to the British Overseas Territory. A video shared on Twitter showed that the Infanta Elena played the Spanish national anthem from a loudspeaker as it passed by.

Manley says this has yet to be clarified by British authorities and is not the point of the complaint. “As we have always done, we will send a diplomatic complaint in the next days over the ship’s incursion in these waters,” Manley said on Wednesday.

The video, which was filmed by Gibraltarian Nicholas Karnani, caused outrage among local residents, who described the incident as a “provocation.” The Spanish Defense Chief of Staff said the navy vessel was in the Strait of Gibraltar for a maritime surveillance mission and was in waters under Spanish jurisdiction at all times.

It’s an invasion of British Gibraltar Territorial Waters

Gibraltar resident Nicholas Karnani

Other military sources say they played the Spanish anthem in response to a provocation after the British anthem God Save the Queen was suddenly heard on a ship radio channel normally reserved for maritime emergencies.

“Enough is enough; it may not undermine sovereignty for the UK, but for us Gibraltarians it's an invasion of BGTW [British Gibraltar Territorial Waters]. The UK Government must take action in defence of it's people (sic),” Karnani wrote in his Twitter message.

London claims every year there are many incidents of this type, and to each one a complaint is filed with Spanish authorities. This incident comes at a moment of heightened tension between Spain and Gibraltar with negotiations over the UK’s exit from the European Union, a process known as Brexit, straining relations. Spain and Gibraltar did reach a series of landmark agreements over the Brexit transition period but the British Overseas Territory continues to be a thorny issue.

Spain believes only the city, castle, ports, defense stations and forts of Gibraltar were legally ceded to the UK under the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht. Since the isthmus and the adjacent waters were not included in the treaty, Spain considers them to be occupied, and refuses to recognize Britain’s jurisdiction, which has led to a number of disputes.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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