Posted: 12th Aug 2013 | Written By: Joseph Watts – London Evening Standard
David Cameron today threatened Spain with “unprecedented” legal action over Gibraltar as British warships steamed towards the Med.
The Prime Minister hit out at heavy-handed Spanish checks at the country’s border with Gibraltar, condemning them as “politically motivated and totally disproportionate”.
His warning of legal action on the issue came as a Royal Navy task-force headed to the Mediterranean for a exercise military chiefs said would remind “international parties” of British capabilities.
Mr Cameron had hoped border controls would ease after the weekend but today said he was “very disappointed” at a lack of progress.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “We feel that these delays are politically motivated and totally disproportionate and would be contrary to EU law on free movement.”
The fresh round in the row over Gibraltar was triggered when the territory’s authorities created an artificial reef which Spain claims will destroy fishing in the area.
Madrid responded by beefing up border controls leading to lengthy queues, proposing a £43 fee for vehicles crossing the border and even suggesting Spanish air space could be closed to flights to Gibraltar.
Confirming the UK’s intention to explore legal action the spokesman said: “It would be an unprecedented step so we want to consider it very carefully.”
Officials insisted the “routine” naval exercise launched today, codenamed Cougar, was routine but its timing took on new significance as the row over border controls escalated.
Helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious set sail from Portsmouth this morning while HMS Bulwark and HMS Montrose left Devonport heading for the Med.
They will be joined by type 23 frigate HMS Westminster, leaving tomorrow, which will dock in Gibraltar as part of the exercise. In an article today London Mayor Boris Johnson branded the border controls “illegal under EU law, and tantamount to a blockade”.
He went on to accuse Spanish authorities of acting like the fascist regime of dictator General Franco.
“I hope that one way or another we will shortly prise Spanish hands off the throat of our colony, because what is now taking place is infamous,” he said.
“The Spanish authorities have decided, for no good reason, to revive the border checks and general harassment of the Franco epoch.”
Meanwhile Europe Minister David Lidington said the UK’s friendship with Spain did not mean Britain would “turn a blind eye when the people of Gibraltar are threatened”.
The European Commission is due to send a team of officials to Spain’s border with Gibraltar to monitor the situation, though they are not expected to arrive until September or October.
Spain denied the border controls were illegal, though defence minister Pedro Morenes played down the row pointing out that HMS Illustrious requested and was granted permission to stop at the southern Spanish naval base of Rota on August 18.
He added: “Neither the British nor the Spanish government have an interest in there being bad relations.”
However, it was also reported today that Spain is plotting an alliance with Argentina, which wants the UK to give up sovereignty of the Falkland Islands.
Spanish paper El Pais claimed the country’s foreign minister Jose Garcia-Margallo would propose the move during a meeting in Buenos Aires next month.
Argentina is on a two-year term as non-permanent member of the UN’s Security Council and could use its position to put Gibraltar on the agenda.
Spain is also considering the possibility of raising Gibraltar at the UN’s General Assembly or the International Court of Justice at The Hague, diplomatic sources told El Pais.
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said the policy on Gibraltar had not changed. She added: “Self-determination matters more than territorial integrity. The people of Gibraltar have repeatedly expressed their wish to remain under British sovereignty.”
(Source: Google News: The London Evening Standard. View the original story here.)