MADRID (AP) — Acting Spanish Premier Mariano Rajoy said Thursday he hopes Britain stays in the EU but is unhappy with British Prime Minister David Cameron’s brief campaign stop in Gibraltar, which Spain claims as its territory.
Speaking on Spanish National Radio, Rajoy said his government “doesn’t like the idea that Mr. Cameron should go to Gibraltar” but insisted that what is being debated is whether Britain stays in the European union, “as I hope it does.”
Cameron is making a two-hour visit Thursday to Gibraltar to seek votes to keep Britain in the EU in the June 23 referendum. Spanish media said it is the first visit to Gibraltar by a British premier in nearly 50 years.
Spain ceded Gibraltar’s sovereignty to Britain in a 1713 treaty but has persistently sought its return ever since. In the past, it has opposed visits by British royal family members to the territory.
Gibraltar’s 30,000 inhabitants are believed to be overwhelmingly on the “remain” side in the EU debate. They fear their access to the single European market could be blocked by a hostile Spanish government if Britain exits.
Rajoy said Spain has always viewed Gibraltar as Spanish regardless of the referendum, adding that the campaign should be carried out in Britain not Gibraltar.
Rajoy, who heads the conservative Popular Party, is running Spain’s caretaker government following inconclusive elections in December. Spaniards are to vote in a repeat election June 26.
This story has been corrected to show that Rajoy is acting premier.