Britain puts Spain on alert over Gibraltar border checks
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Britain’s prime minister and foreign secretary have called their Spanish counterparts over “disproportionate” delays at the border between Spain and Gibraltar, warning that a row linked to disputed fishing waters could damage bilateral relations.
Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague on Wednesday put pressure on their Spanish counterparts to ease security checks that have caused delays of up to seven hours at the border between the British territory of Gibraltar and southern Spain, as part of an ongoing fishing dispute.
Cameron called Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to express concerns over delays and suggestions of further actions by Madrid, warning that the situation could damage bilateral relations.
“The PM made clear that our position on the sovereignty of Gibraltar and its surrounding waters will not change,” a British government spokesperson said.
“[Cameron] also reiterated… that the issue should not damage our bilateral relations. However there was a real risk of this happening unless the situation at the border improved,” the spokesperson added.
Downing Street said PM Rajoy agreed that the situation should not damage ties and committed to reducing security measures at the border during the telephone conversation.
Later in the day, Britain’s Hague spoke with Spanish Foreign Minister Garcia-Margallo to reiterate that the border delays were “disproportionate”.
However, while Madrid said it had agreed to further dialogue in order to calm diplomatic tensions, it reasserted its right to step up controls of vehicles and people traveling to and out of Gibraltar.
“Spain reserves its right to enforce controls to prevent illicit trafficking, and to take any necessary measure to prevent tax fraud, environmental violations and any act that goes against the Spanish law,” Spain’s Ministry of Foreign Relations and Cooperation said in a statement.
The diplomatic posturing is part of a decades-old dispute over the sovereignty of the rocky island, tensions that were raised in late July when Gibraltar boats began dumping blocks of concrete into the sea to build an artificial reef.
Gibraltarians have complained of excessive fishing by Spanish boats and said the man-made reef was meant to foster marine life.
Spain has called the construction of the reef a “unilateral” and “unacceptable” move that “inflicted serious damage to Spanish fishermen and the environment.”
Gibraltar complained to the European Commission over what it says are unreasonable controls at the border, labelling them a retaliatory move for the reef-building and claiming the checks violate European Union rules on free circulation.
But Spanish authorities said the ramped-up checks were in line with EU rules, since the UK does not belong to the Schengen area, where the free movement of persons is guaranteed.