A Tory MP has asked the British Government to press Spain within the European Union over “legal problems” arising from Ceuta and Melilla. Philip Hollobone, the Conservative MP for Kettering, made the request in a written parliamentary question on Gibraltar tabled in the House of Commons.
He urged the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to commission a detailed study comparing Gibraltar’s relationship with the UK to Spain’s relationship with its North African enclaves, which are claimed by Morocco.
Mr Hollobone also wants the British Government to examine “…how the UK might raise at EU level the issue of legal problems arising from Spain’s relationship with Ceuta and Melilla”. He did not expand on what those ‘problems’ entailed.
Spain has always argued that Gibraltar cannot be compared to Ceuta and Melilla because the two Spanish territories enjoy a different constitutional status to the Rock. But the fact that the issue has been raised in the Commons will rankle with the Spanish Government, which is very sensitive to matters relating to its two North African enclaves.
Mr Hollobone’s written question coincided with an oral debate in the Commons at which Britain’s Europe Minister, David Lidington, answered questions on Gibraltar. This is the third consecutive week that Gibraltar has been raised in the British parliament.
“We remain very concerned by delays at Gibraltar’s border with Spain and are pressing the Spanish authorities to act on the European Commission’s recommendations to them,” Mr Lidington said.
“We continue to work closely with the Government of Gibraltar to uphold the sovereignty of the United Kingdom and the rights of the people of Gibraltar, including by challenging unlawful Spanish incursions into British Gibraltar territorial waters.”
Tory MP Jason McCartney highlighted the importance of having “a workable border crossing” and called on Mr Lidington to ensure the European Commission kept to its promise of making it easier for people to cross the border.
“Will [Mr Lidington]…follow up this matter with Spain so that the people of Gibraltar can enjoy the EU rights that Spain owes them?” he asked.
Mr Lidington agreed and replied: “We are indeed continuing to press the Spanish authorities to implement what the Commission has recommended they do, including adding to the number of traffic lanes so that cars can get through more smoothly and looking at how to risk-profile travellers crossing the border so that those who may be smugglers or other criminals can be properly identified and ordinary citizens not inconvenienced.”
Labour MP Barry Sheerman called on the minister to use his influence to temper the language of the dispute with the Spanish, who he described as “great allies” of the UK.
“Can we just lower the temperature and stop throwing brickbats at each other?” he asked. Mr Lidington replied that he would be “only too pleased if we could lower the temperature.”
But he added: “It is not just a matter of lowering the temperature in verbal exchanges but of expecting our NATO allies in Spain to desist from the unlawful incursions into British Gibraltar waters that have been all too common.”
Last week British Foreign Secretary William Hague met the newly appointed Moroccan Foreign Minister, Salaheddine Mezouar and praised UK/Morocco relations.
“I was delighted to welcome my Moroccan counterpart Mr Salaheddine Mezouar at a time when Britain and Morocco are celebrating 800 years of diplomatic ties”.
“We discussed regional issues including Iran, Syria and Libya, and agreed to keep in close touch on these issues.”
“I thanked Mr Mezouar for Morocco’s support during our presidency of the G8; and I reaffirmed our support for the Moroccan government’s reform program”.
“We discussed the developing economic relationship, and welcomed the launch of the Moroccan British Business forum later this week. We agreed we can do more to increase bilateral commercial links, and I hope that these will remain at the heart of the relationship as it develops further.”