UK is not 'stepping back' from Gibraltar, minister insists

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Foreign Office Minister Baroness Warsi has responded to concerns about the government's stance on Gibraltar raised in a debate on 10 March 2013.

The debate was tabled by former senior judge and crossbencher Baroness Butler-Sloss, who took issue with wording previously used by the government when it said it wanted to "de-escalate" tensions in the region.

"I understood the British policy over Gibraltar is to maintain the status quo," Lady Butler-Sloss told the House. "The word 'de-escalate' means to me a degree of stepping back and may be so understood by Spain."

She asked for assurance from the minister that "she did not mean to step back".

Speaking for Labour, Baroness Morgan of Ely saw Spain's position as "not new and not likely to change " and added: "This sabre-rattling is not the way to resolve international conflict nor to distract from your internal problems."

The minister, Baroness Warsi, condemned Spain's actions over the past year as "unhelpful".

She went on to insist that the British position is "unequivocal", has been defended by "robust action" and that the government is "in no way stepping back from our commitment".

The underlying dispute between the UK and Spain over the sovereignty of Gibraltar has continued for centuries, but a row over fishing rights has increased over the last few years.

The most recent spat erupted in July 2013 when Gibraltar dropped concrete blocks into the bay, in what it said was part of a plan to create an artificial reef to nurture sea life.

Spain said the blocks have been laid in Spanish waters "without the necessary authorisation".

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