Britain has asked the EU to “urgently” send a team to Gibraltar “to gather evidence” on extra border checks at the centre of a growing row with Spain. PM David Cameron spoke to EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to raise “serious concerns” that Spain's actions are “politically motivated”.
Britain says the checks break EU free movement rules but Spain says Gibraltar has not controlled smuggling. A team of EU monitors had been due to go to the Gibraltar border next month. But Mr Cameron wants the monitors to be sent there immediately.
Spain claims sovereignty over Gibraltar, which is a British overseas territory. There have been lengthy traffic delays at its border with Spain since the extra checks began.
The UK says it is considering legal action over the checks, which Spain argues are needed to stop smuggling and are proportionate. Spain also denies they have been imposed in retaliation for an artificial reef installed by Gibraltar which Spain says will disrupt its fishing fleet.
Downing Street said on Friday that PM Cameron had called Mr Barroso to raise serious concerns that Spain's actions were politically motivated and disproportionate - and broke EU rules on freedom of movement.
He said the UK wanted to resolve the row through political dialogue.
But as the checks continued, Mr Cameron added, the UK was collating evidence on the sporadic nature of these measures which would prove that they are illegitimate.
In the meantime, we believe that the European Commission, as guardian of the treaties, should investigate the issue, a Downing Street spokesman said. He added the prime minister had urged President Barroso to send an EU monitoring team to the Gibraltar-Spain border urgently to gather evidence of the checks that are being carried out.
The PM emphasised that the Commission has a responsibility to do this as part of its role overseeing the application of [European] Union law, added the Downing Street spokesman.
A European Commission spokesman said President Barroso had told Mr Cameron the situation was being monitored to ensure respect for EU law.
President Barroso also expects that this matter is addressed between the two countries concerned in a way that is in line with their common membership of the EU, the spokesman added.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is also due to speak to his Spanish counterpart, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, to press the UK government's concerns.
From Spain it was reported that London and Madrid are not speaking directly to each other about the Gibraltar dispute. Instead they have so far exchanged ‘notes verbales’ - unsigned letters between diplomats.
According to Spanish news reports the exchanges had limited themselves to these notes and public statement but it reported that Foreign minister Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo received a formal complaint on Wednesday from the British Embassy in Madrid over the “unacceptable” controls at the frontier.
The response from Garcia-Margallo was indignant. El Pais newspaper said that Spain’s reply was characterised by officials as “firm and severe” and was made swiftly. The note from Spain is said to argue that the frontier is on illegally occupied land that was not ceded under the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht. It also defended the controls as “pertinent, random, proportionate, non-discriminatory and without political motivation.”
Likewise from Madrid it was reported that the Spanish association of academics and jurists has lodged a formal complaint in a La Linea court alleging that nine Gibraltar Government ministers committed an environmental crime under Spanish law by ordering the creation of an artificial reef off the runway.
The complaint must now be assessed by a Spanish judge but has little chance of prospering, not least because the reef was laid in British Gibraltar territorial waters. Even so, against the current background of tension between the Spain, the UK and Gibraltar, the move by the little-known association will add unwelcome uncertainty to an already convoluted and complicated situation.
This is not the first time that formal complaints have been filed in Spanish courts against Gibraltar politicians.
The eight-page complaint, known in Spanish as a ‘querella criminal’, was filed in the La Linea by the Granada-based Club de la Constitución under the name of its president, the law professor and journalist José Torné Dombidau Jiménez.
The complaint names each government minister by name and gives as their address their place of work. The only minister who escapes being named in the complaint is Albert Isola, though there is no explanation why.