x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

UK threatens legal action against Spain, sends warship to Gibraltar

Britain may take legal action against Spain over tighter border controls at its contested overseas territory Gibraltar, escalating a row that has strained relations between the two countries.

LONDON // Britain may take legal action against Spain over tighter border controls at its contested overseas territory Gibraltar, the prime minister's spokesman said yesterday, escalating a row that has strained relations between the two countries.

Tensions over Gibraltar, the rocky outpost at the mouth of the Mediterranean to which Spain lays claim, flared up this month after Spain complained that an artificial reef being built by Gibraltar would block its fishing vessels.

Spain has imposed tougher checks at the frontier, causing long delays for thousands of tourists and local people. Madrid also floated the idea of a new border crossing fee and a ban on planes using its airspace to reach the territory.

David Cameron's spokesman said Britain thinks the tighter border controls are "politically motivated and totally disproportionate" and should be stopped.

"The prime minister is disappointed by the failure of the Spanish to remove the additional border checks this weekend and we are now considering what legal action is open to us," the spokesman said.

A Royal Navy warship set sail for Gibraltar yesterday as the row between Britain and Spain over the disputed island territory escalated. Gibraltar has been a source of tension since Spain ceded the territory to Britain in the Treaty of Utrecht 300 years ago.

The London mayor Boris Johnson yesterday issued a "hands off" warning to Spain over Gibraltar after Madrid vowed to take "all necessary measures" to defend its interests in the British outpost.

The gaffe-prone Conservative mayor urged the government to "prise Spanish hands off the throat of our colony" after it increased border checks in retaliation for the building of an artificial reef in disputed waters.

"Hands off our Rock, that's what I say," Mr Johnson wrote in the Daily Telegraph.

"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."

The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, said last week that his country would take "all necessary measures" to defend its interests.

Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in perpetuity in 1713 but has long argued that it should be returned to Spanish sovereignty. London says it will not do so against the wishes of Gibraltarians, who are staunchly pro-British.

The self-governing British overseas territory, measuring just 6.8 square kilometres, is home to about 30,000 people, and is strategically important as it overlooks the only entrance to the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean.

 

* Agence France-Presse with Reuters