The latest spat between the UK and Spain over Gibraltar is one of those political hardy annuals that springs up in the fertile ground of the summer doldrums, often watered by the need to distract from a political scandal. Nothing like a bit of nationalist flag-waving to push a corruption scandal out of the limelight.
Once again Spanish displeasure has been manifested in tougher border controls into the disputed territory which Britain has controlled since 1713. The result, endless traffic queues. The measures are a reaction to British work on a concrete seabed reef which Spanish fishermen say will destroy their livelihoods. Madrid is also considering imposing a €50 charge to cross the border, a move that will particularly hurt locals who work and live either side of it.
Diplomatically, El Pais newspaper writes, Spain is set to approach the Argentines, members of the UN Security Council, to suggest a mutual alliance over the Rock and the Falklands/Malvinas, and may go to the general asssembly and the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
For its part the UK has raised the issue directly with the Spanish at an EU summit, has scheduled a naval exercise for the Mediterranean, and has announced that it will go to the much-reviled European Court of Justice to uphold the the EU’s free travel rules and overturn what prime minister David Cameron calls “politically motivated and disproportionate” border checks. All of which has the virtue of appearing to do something, with the added advantage that, should the court demur, he will add grist to the mill of euroscepticism.
The issue clearly has some salience in Britain too. London mayor Boris Johnston has told Cameron to “prise Spanish hands off the throat of our colony”, has compared the Spanish government to Franco, and told it to “stop it all, and pronto”. But give it a few days, the border checks will be eased, the rhetoric toned down, the summer squall will pass. And Gibraltar will remain a very British pebble in a Spanish shoe.