x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Spain acting like 'North Korea' over Gibraltar border plan, says chief minister

Madrid is considering imposing a 50-euro (Dh244) fee on anyone travelling into or out of the territory, which has been under British sovereignty for 300 years. Omar Karmi reports from London

LONDON// David Cameron, the British prime minister, said yesterday he was "seriously concerned" about reports that Spain might introduce fees at its borders with Gibraltar and close its airspace to flights using the territory's airport.

Spain's foreign minister, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo on Sunday announced that Madrid was considering imposing a 50-euro (Dh244) fee on anyone travelling into or out of the territory, which has been under British sovereignty for 300 years.

Mr Garcia-Margallo also said Spain was considering a tax investigation into Spanish property owned by 6,000 Gibraltarians, and a law to force online gaming operations in Gibraltar to use Spanish servers, thereby coming under Spanish tax law.

A spokesman for Mr Cameron told reporters yesterday that Britain was monitoring tensions.

"We are seeking an explanation from [the Spanish government] regarding the reports that they might target Gibraltar with further measures."

The row started 10 days ago when Gibraltar began work on an artificial reef that Madrid insists interferes with Spanish fishing rights.

The dispute has escalated since, with Spanish authorities increasing checks at the border, resulting in a three-day delay last weekend.

Spain has long disputed Britain's claim to Gibraltar - a 6.5 square kilometre territory at the very southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula that derives its name from the Arabic Jebel Tariq - but its status did not figure highly in Anglo-Spanish relations under the previous Socialist government.

The new centre-right governing coalition in Madrid seems to be taking a different tack, however, and Mr Garcia-Margallo, speaking to the Spanish newspaper ABC, vowed that now, "the party was over."

Fabian Picardo, Gibraltar's chief minister, yesterday compared such "sabre rattling" to North Korean tactics and said it "did nothing for the establishment of strong cross-frontier relations".

The nearly 30,000 Gibraltarians have twice voted to remain a British Overseas Territory - allowing them self-rule, but with foreign and defence affairs in the hands of the British government.

The last such referendum was in 2002.

In a statement on Sunday, the British foreign office said it would not compromise on sovereignty.

Britain is committed to its "constitutional commitments to the people of Gibraltar", a spokesman said

"Our differences with Spain on Gibraltar will be resolved by political means through our relationship as EU partners, not through disproportionate measures such as border delays as we have seen over the past week."

okarmi@thenational.ae

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