Since 26 July, attempts by the Spanish government to exert pressure on Gibraltar and its people have increased significantly. Disproportionate and time-consuming checks have been introduced at the Gibraltar-Spain border, leading to delays of up to seven hours. At those same borders we have seen ambulances being searched and prohibitions placed on the transport of essential building materials. The Government of Spain has in addition publicly made a series of threats of further action. In parallel, beginning in April 2012, Spanish state vessels have continued to make multiple illegal incursions into British Gibraltar Territorial Waters (BGTW).
These actions and threats are wholly unacceptable. The impact of the border delays has been felt most severely by local citizens, both Gibraltarians and the thousands of Spanish commuters who benefit from employment in Gibraltar. As well as having to endure long delays in hot weather, people crossing the border have reported aggressive behaviour by the teams of Guardia Civil officers brought from other parts of Spain to conduct the enhanced checks. There have been disturbing reports of Gibraltar licensed cars being burnt or vandalised in Spain. The ban on importing certain materials is already impacting on infrastructure projects and the reduction in the number of people able to cross the border has reduced retail sales. The heightened rhetoric from the Spanish Foreign Minister is also concerning.
These measures are disproportionate and obviously politically motivated, having been introduced immediately after the lawful creation by the Government of Gibraltar of an artificial reef in BGTW. They are also unlawful under EU law. By contrast the creation of the reef was legal and is part of the Government of Gibraltar’s long term marine environmental management plan designed to improve fish stocks and regenerate habitat. The use of inert concrete blocks to create artificial reefs is consistent with international best practice and with the Government of Spain’s own approach to artificial reefs.
The Government has responded to these developments robustly and in close concert with the Government of Gibraltar. Our aim is to ensure that Gibraltarians can go about their business unhampered and free from intimidation, and to uphold the rights and interests of Gibraltar and the United Kingdom.
We summoned the Spanish Ambassador on 2 August. The Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have protested in the strongest terms to our counterparts, emphasising that Britain will not stand by in the face of continued hostility and stands shoulder to shoulder with the people of Gibraltar. We have also spoken to our other European counterparts to make sure that they are aware of the details of Spain’s unjustifiable behaviour.
We have asked that the European Commission urgently sends a monitoring mission to the border to investigate the delays, and following the Prime Minister’s intervention, we welcome President Barroso’s confirmation that a mission will soon be deployed. In partnership with the Government of Gibraltar, we are continuing to collect evidence of the disproportionate unlawful border measures, and will share this with the European Commission before their monitoring mission arrives. We are also keeping under review the option of taking direct legal action against the Spanish Government.
We challenge and protest against every unlawful incursion. Following the recent Guardia Civil underwater incursion, our response has focussed on three key lines of operation: surveillance - to ensure the area was properly monitored; deterrence - increasing patrol activity and general presence in the vicinity of the reef; and prevention - with the Royal Navy, Royal Gibraltar Police and the Gibraltar Defence Police ready to deploy to counter incursions or other surface.
On 7 August the Foreign Secretary again confirmed to the Spanish Government our commitment to a diplomatic solution, repeating the offer made in April 2012 for ad hoc talks involving all relevant parties while remaining strongly committed to the Trilateral Forum of Dialogue between the UK, Gibraltar and Spain.
We will continue to press the Spanish Government to de-escalate the situation and to remove the additional checks at the border, as well as preparing prudently for increasing that pressure if that does not happen. We will continue to work very closely with the Government of Gibraltar. On 28-30 August, Chief Minister Picardo visited London for meetings with the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary.
We will continue to respect the wishes of the people of Gibraltar, and will take whatever action is necessary to safeguard Gibraltar, its people and its economy.
Follow the Foreign Office on twitter @foreignoffice
Follow the Foreign Office on facebook and Google+