Spanish Crown Prince stirs Gibraltar controversy with Prince of Wales
The Spanish heir to throne waded into the centuries old row over the disputed territory at the foot of the Iberian Peninsula at a gala dinner to welcome the Prince and the Duchess of Cornwall on their first official visit together to Spain.
"I express my hope that our authorities make progress towards a solution to our historic bilateral dispute which is yet to be resolved," said the 43-year-old Prince of Asturias in a speech at the Palacio Real in Madrid.
Although he did not mention Gibraltar by name it was clear he was referring to the tiny peninsula on Spain's southwestern tip, which Madrid ceded to London under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.
Spain still claims sovereignty over the Rock, home to 28,000 Gibraltarians, who in a 2002 referendum overwhelmingly rejected a deal to shared sovereignty between the two nations and demanded to remain a part of Britain.
The royal couple have avoided Gibraltar during their first official joint tour of the Iberian Peninsula, skirting the inevitable controversy that a visit to the disputed territory would produce in Spain.
"It seems that while our royals do their best to stay out of politics, the same can't be said of the Spanish Prince," said a source at the Government of Gibraltar.
It was the first time that Prince Felipe and his wife Princess Letizia, a former news anchorwoman, officially hosted a Royal visit to Spain and the raising of the contentious Gibraltar issue in the welcome speech surprised commentators in Spain.
"We didn't expect Prince Felipe to make mention of the Gibraltar, although the sovereignty question always hangs in the air," said Raquel Garcia, royal correspondent for television station Telecinco.
His decision to raise the issue was applauded by some politicians and one said it was a comment on the Socialist government's failure to address the problem.
"It's regrettable that it is left to the Prince to do the work of the government," said Rosa Diez, leader of the Union, Progress and Democracy party (UPyD).
The issue has dominated coverage of a visit aimed at strengthening ties between the two countries with one Spanish newspaper, the right wing daily La Razon, using the headline "Gibraltar, Spanish" on its front page.
The Prince of Wales, who has used the trip to focus on commercial relations, reflected on the nature of Anglo-Spanish ties in his speech at the dinner.
"I know that the relationship that exists between the UK and Spain is one of the oldest, deepest and – how can I put it – most intense that exists between any two nations," he acknowledged.
"We have at times been bounded by trade, by politics, by Treaty and by marriage. And, at other times, we have been divided by war, by religion and by economic rivalry.
"But I think I can say without fear of contradiction that throughout the centuries, one thing we have never lacked is mutual respect and admiration, irrespective of the side of the argument on which we have found ourselves."
Prince Charles visited Gibraltar on his honeymoon with Princess Diana in 1981, a move that led to King Juan Carlos of Spain turning down an invitation to their wedding.
The King of Spain, his wife Queen Sofia and the Prince and Princess of Asturias are to be guests at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
The two royal families share the same ancestor, Queen Victoria.
What do you think of the controversy? Should the Prince have raised the issue in his speech?