Prime Minister Theresa May has laughed off journalists’ questions about going to war with Spain following the Gibraltar Brexit row.
Mrs May said her approach to negotiations was “definitely jaw jaw”.
On Sunday ex-Tory leader Lord Howard said the PM would defend Gibraltar in the same way as Margaret Thatcher defended the Falklands in the 1982 war.
Spain’s foreign minister said his government was “surprised by the tone of comments coming out of Britain”.
“It seems someone is losing their cool,” Alfonso Dastis told a conference in Madrid.
The current row was sparked by draft Brexit negotiating guidelines published by the EU last Friday saying any decisions affecting Gibraltar would be run past Spain.
The guidelines said: “After the United Kingdom leaves the Union, no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom.”
Speaking to reporters on a flight to Jordan, Mrs May was asked if – borrowing from a phase used by Winston Churchill – Britain’s approach should be described as “jaw jaw, not war war”.
“It’s definitely jaw jaw,” replied the PM, who laughed when asked to rule out a war with Spain.
“What we are doing, with all EU countries in the EU is sitting down and talking to them,” she said.
“We’re going to be talking to them about getting the best possible deal for the UK and for those countries – Spain included.”
Mrs May said British policy on Gibraltar had not, and would not, change.
Gibraltar’s chief minister Fabian Picardo said: “Gibraltar is not a bargaining chip in these negotiations. Gibraltar belongs to the Gibraltarians and we want to stay British.”
Mr Picardo urged European Council President Donald Tusk to remove the reference to Gibraltar.
“Mr Tusk, who has been given to using the analogies of the divorce and divorce petition, is behaving like a cuckolded husband who is taking it out on the children,” he said.
The EU’s guidelines followed a letter from Mrs May formally triggering Brexit talks, which did not mention Gibraltar directly.
Lord Howard raised the spectre of military action, saying that 35 years ago, “another woman prime minister sent a taskforce halfway across the world to protect another small group of British people against another Spanish-speaking country.
“And I’m absolutely clear that our current woman prime minister will show the same resolve in relation to Gibraltar as her predecessor did.”
After Argentina invaded the Falklands in 1982, Margaret Thatcher sent a task force to reclaim the islands, in the South Atlantic.
An estimated 655 Argentine and 255 British servicemen lost their lives in the fighting that followed.