Britain threatens ‘unprecedented’ legal action over Gibraltar border checks
Cameron ‘disappointed’ by ‘disproportionate’ Spanish border measures
Drivers wait in line to enter Gibraltar yesterday at its border with Spain at La Linea de la Concepcion. Photograph: Reuters/Jon Nazca
The summer standoff over Gibraltar shows little sign of abating as the British government yesterday threatened to take “unprecedented” legal action against Spain over lengthy security checks at the border.
The controls have seen waits of up to seven hours for people since late July. At the start of the weekend, the situation appeared to have improved. But as many Gibraltarians returned home on Sunday evening from Andalusia, the queues started to stretch again. Throughout much of yesterday the situation had not changed.
“We are now considering what legal action is open to us,” said a spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron.
“This would be an unprecedented step so we want to consider it carefully before making a decision to pursue, but the prime minister is disappointed by what’s happened over the weekend.”
Spain has long laid claim to Gibraltar, a small territory on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, which Britain has held since 1713. The crisis started after Gibraltar dumped 70 large concrete blocks into the sea, creating an artificial reef preventing Spanish fishing boats from working in the area. Madrid then introduced the border checks, insisting they were intended to stem an upsurge in tobacco smuggling.
In early August, Spain’s government said it was considering measures aimed at Gibraltar, including a €50 fee for vehicles travelling to and from it.
Mr Cameron’s spokesman described the border checks as “politically motivated and totally disproportionate”.
He spoke on the same day a fleet of British warships departed for the Mediterranean, with some due to dock in Gibraltar. The routine military exercise was planned long ago by London and agreed to by the Spanish government, but it is seen as a timely symbol of the rift.
Alliance with Argentina
London’s concerns are also fuelled by reports in the Spanish media that Madrid sees Argentina as a potential ally in taking the issue before the United Nations. The South American country has a two-year term as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.
According to El País newspaper, Spanish foreign minister José Manuel García-Margallo is planning to travel to Buenos Aires in early September. While there, he could lobby for a Spanish-Argentine “united front” against Britain’s continued possession of Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands.
Although many accuse Mariano Rajoy of using Gibraltar to distract attention from a corruption scandal plaguing his party, the Socialist opposition offered support on the issue yesterday. Socialist Party secretary Óscar López also said Spain needed “to be tough”.