Talks aim to end Gibraltar border row
Spanish leader agrees to ’de-escalate’ measures imposed amid fishing dispute
Motorists queue at the border to enter Gibraltar yesterday in La Linea de la Concepcion, Spain. Tensions between the British and Spanish governments have been raised on issues surrounding the sovereignty of Gibraltar. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty
British prime minister David Cameron has accused the Spanish government of backing away from the dispute caused by its decision to impose hours of delays for motorists crossing the Gibraltarian border.
Motorists have faced up to six-hour delays, plus a near €50 fee to cross the Gibraltar border, following the sharp heightening of tensions between Gibraltar and Madrid, which has long claimed the British dependency.
Tempers have flared in recent months over fishing rights, becoming more strained after the Gibraltarian authorities put an artificial reef into its waters to begin a marine reserve, something which the Spaniards have done along their own coast.
Following a 15-minute conversation yesterday with Spanish prime minister Manuel Rajoy, Mr Cameron’s spokesman said the matter should not become an obstacle in Anglo-Spanish relations.
“In the meantime, prime minister Rajoy committed to reducing measures at the border. Both leaders agreed that there should be a solution to the fishing dispute,” the spokesman told reporters after the conversation.
“The prime minister made clear that our position on the sovereignty of Gibraltar and its surrounding waters will not change,” he said, adding both London and Madrid have previously agreed the matter should not damage bilateral relations.
“However there is a real risk of this happening unless the situation at the border improved,” he said, adding that Mr Rajoy had agreed that “we needed to find a way to de-escalate the issue”.
Foreign secretary William Hague will now speak with his Spanish counterpart, José Garcia-Margallo to discuss a way forward: “In the meantime, prime minister Rajoy committed to reducing measures at the border,” a British government spokesman said.
However, Madrid had a different view of the conversation, saying that the Spanish prime minister had made it clear that the work carried out on the creation of the reef was unilateral and unacceptable.
Defending the border checks put in place, the Spaniards argue they are designed to combat drug-smuggling and are permitted under the European Union’s Schengen Agreement, which the UK has not joined.
Later, Mr Hague said he had told his Spanish opposite number that the border delays are “disproportionate”, adding that the actions taken by the Gibraltarian authorities are within their “constitutional competence”.
London believes the Spanish government has wound up tension over Gibraltar to deflect public attention from the country’s economic crisis and a long-running controversy about corruption inside Spain’s ruling party.