Britain this week raised the issue of disproportionate Gibraltar border checks and delays “at the highest level” with the Spanish Government. The issue was revealed in Parliament by Europe Minister David Lidington who was responding to a question in an emergency debate instigated by the all party Gibraltar group.
Mr. Lidington made clear it had not been raised with the Spanish Ambassador because it had been raised at a higher level directly with the Spanish Government although officials later declined to say exactly who this referred to. It was raised outside of the EU foreign ministers’ meeting, it was confirmed.
In Parliament Mr Lidington noted that this last weekend significant delays had occurred at the Gibraltar border of 45 minutes to six hours as a result of the more rigorous checks by the Guardia Civil on cars leaving the Rock. But he also noted the reduced delays on Monday.
“Spain has justified the more rigorous checks as being anti-tobacco smuggling operations between Gibraltar and Spain. Tobacco smuggling does occur between Gibraltar and Spain. However the Spanish authorities have not provided the Gibraltar authorities with evidence that in this case increased checks were required.”
Mr Lidington noted that the delays come at a time of increased tension resulting from the fishing dispute over Spanish fishing rights in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters.
The Europe Minister reported that the view in Gibraltar is that the delays are intended to increase pressure on Gibraltar to resolve the fishing dispute. He also noted that both Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and the ASCTEG, the Spanish workers association, had criticised the delays.
Disruption and border queues, he said, have an effect on the wellbeing and prosperity of communities on both sides of the border especially the several thousand Spanish workers.
“The (UK) government position is that these delays are unacceptable and have no place at a border between EU partners,” he said adding that the issue had been raised over the weekend at a very high level with the Spanish Government. It will also be protested formally to the local Guardia Civil, he added.
Mr Lidington said the UK would continue to monitor the situation closely and “take whatever appropriate action is necessary to support the free movement of people between Gibraltar and Spain”.
On maritime incursions Mr Lidington said that that Britain is “absolutely confident” in its sovereignty over Gibraltar British Territorial waters.
“That is why the Royal Navy challenges Guardia Civil and other Spanish vessels whenever they make unlawful maritime incursions,” he said adding that this is backed up with diplomatic protests to the Spanish Government about all unlawful incursions.
“Those challenges and protests make clear that such incursions are an unacceptable violation of British sovereignty,” said Mr Lidington.