Gibraltar has slapped down the king of Spain for saying the “two governments” of his country and Britain will find a solution on the Rock’s future that is “acceptable to all involved”.
The chief minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, said King Felipe’s comments suggested he was treating the British territory as one that could be “traded from one monarch to another” like a “pawn in a chess game”.
Mr Picardo urged him to understand that Gibraltar “will remain 100% British”, after the monarch raised the thorny issue as he addressed MPs and peers at the Royal Gallery in the Houses of Parliament during his state visit.
King Felipe said Britain and Spain have a long-shared history and have “frequently stood shoulder to shoulder” as friends, partners and allies, in the best interests of both nations.
Watched by Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, the king went on: “It is just as true, however, that during our rich and fruitful history there have also been estrangements, rivalries and disputes, but the work and determination of our governments, authorities and citizens have relegated such events to the past.
“I am certain that this resolve to overcome our differences will be even greater in the case of Gibraltar and I am confident that through the necessary dialogue and effort, our two governments will be able to work towards arrangements that are acceptable to all involved.”
But the Gibraltar government insisted its is the most important voice in the future of the British territory and criticised King Felipe’s “undemocratic” ignorance of the wishes of its people.
Mr Picardo said: “The people of Gibraltar want normal, friendly relations with Spain on the same basis as with any other country.
“However, we have no desire to form part of Spain or to come under Spanish sovereignty in any shape or form.
“In the times in which we live, territories cannot be traded from one monarch to another like pawns in a chess game.
“The concept of human rights and democracy means that the wishes of people must come first, as much of His Majesty the King of Spain’s address to Westminster Hall rightly identified.
“But those principles are not just abstract ones; they apply to Gibraltar and its people too.”
Referencing two referenda held in 1967 and 2002 in which the people of Gibraltar voted to remain British, Mr Picardo added: “In Gibraltar the people have spoken loud and clear. Our freely expressed democratic wishes must be respected and that means understanding Gibraltar will remain 100% British.”
A Government spokesman said: “We welcome King Felipe’s warm speech, in which he reiterated the friendship between our two countries. As the king said, the UK and Spain enjoy an incredibly strong relationship.
“While Gibraltar is an issue on which we do not see eye to eye, our position is clear: the sovereignty of Gibraltar is not up for discussion. The people of Gibraltar have repeatedly and overwhelmingly expressed their wish to remain under British sovereignty and we will respect this.
“As we leave the EU we are committed to working with our partners to secure a deal that works for the UK and the EU and its remaining members, including Spain. And that deal must also work for Gibraltar.”
King Felipe’s speech in the Palace of Westminster came as Gibraltar’s flag flew outside in Parliament Square.
The flag’s presence was welcomed earlier at Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons by Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell, who urged Mrs May to remind the king that Gibraltar is British, despite long-standing Spanish claims on the territory.
Mr Rosindell later looked on as the king raised the tricky subject in his address to parliamentarians.
Earlier the Spanish monarch and his wife were the centre of a welcoming ceremony full of pomp and pageantry befitting a three-day state visit.
But the formality of the event, staged on Horse Guards Parade, was contrasted by the informal greeting of the Spanish King.
Felipe at 6ft 5in towered over the Queen and he kissed his distant relative on the cheek and hand when they met.
His wife Queen Letizia shared a conversation with the Queen as they watched the king, escorted by Philip, inspect a guard of honour, the 1st Battalion Irish Guards, on the parade ground.
The royal party later sat down to a private lunch at Buckingham Palace, where the foreign royals are staying, and were joined by the Duke of Cambridge.
Gifts are traditionally exchanged between the Queen and her guests and the monarch was presented with copies of love letters between Princess Victoria Eugenie, Felipe’s great-grandmother and Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, and King Alfonso XIII of Spain.
The Queen gave Felipe a bound album featuring pages from the Royal Library and Royal Archives. He also received the customary present - a silver framed pair of photographs of his royal hosts.