Yesterday, only four days after Theresa May triggered article 50, the public debate bypassed “heated” and accelerated headlong into “surreal/barmy” territory as Lord Howard, a former Conservative party leader and former home secretary, suggested that the government should threaten the use of military force to protect the interests of Gibraltar as Brexit unfolds. He told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday:
Thirty-five years ago this week, another woman prime minister sent a taskforce halfway across the world to defend the freedom of another small group of British people against another Spanish-speaking country, and I’m absolutely certain that our current prime minister will show the same resolve in standing by the people of Gibraltar.
This morning Jack Straw, who served as home secretary and foreign secretary in the Labour government and who shadowed Howard in the 1990s, told the Today programme that Howard was being “absurd” and that he was guilty of “19th century jngoism”. He said:
Last night, on BBC Radio 4’s the Westminster House, Dominic Grieve, the Conservative former attorney general who now chairs parliament’s intelligence and security committee, also criticised Howard, albeit more tactfully. He said Howard’s language was “a little bit apocalyptic”.
Even Howard himself seems to have had second thoughts. On Channel 4 News last night, asked if he was “seriously suggesting” war with Spain, he replied: “Of course not.” But he did add: “I can see no harm in reminding them what kind of people we are.”
Yesterday Downing Street was refusing to comment, but there is a lobby briefing this morning where we may get a response, and Theresa May is bound to be asked about this on her trip to the Gulf.
As for what they make of this in the rest of the EU, God knows. But, if we find out, obviously, I’ll cover it here.
The Commons is in recess and the diary is relatively empty. Here is the agenda for the day.
9.30am: The UK in a Changing Europe conference opens. Speakers during the day include Hilary Benn, the Labour chair of the Brexit committee, and John Curtice, the psephologist.
11am: Number 10 lobby briefing.
And May is setting off on her trip to the Gulf, where she will visit Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
As usual, I will be covering breaking political news as it happens, as well as bringing you the best reaction, comment and analysis from the web. I plan to post a summary at lunchtime and another in the afternoon.
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