It is time for the Government to get off the fence and take a tougher line with Spain over the latest disputes concerning Gibraltar, says the Foreign Affairs Committee in their report.
Spain has long disputed the UK’s sovereignty over Gibraltar, but since 2012 its Government has taken a more hard-line approach and has significantly increased its pressure on Gibraltar and its people. Over the last three years, Gibraltarians have suffered long border delays; maritime incursions; and heightened rhetoric from Spanish ministers about its sovereignty and its economic affairs. There is even a continuing refusal to allow direct military movements between Gibraltar and Spain, including among NATO partners.
Chairman of the Committee, Sir Richard Ottaway MP, says,
"The behaviour of Spain toward Gibraltar is unacceptable. We have a situation where a NATO and EU ally is deliberately impacting the economy of a British Overseas Territory. But with the FCO taking far too long to register diplomatic protests, we are giving entirely the wrong impression to Spain about how seriously the UK takes these issues."
The report considers the reasons for the increased tension, including Spanish allegations against Gibraltar’s financial system and smuggling controls, as well as suggestions that Spain is seeking to distract from its own domestic troubles. The Committee regrets that dialogue between the UK, Gibraltar and Spain has been suspended over the last three years, and asks the Government to set out how it intends to secure talks before the next election.
Chairman of the Committee, Sir Richard Ottaway MP, says
“We have no doubt that delays imposed by Spain at the border with Gibraltar are politically motivated. The UK Government is right to look to the European Commission to address this matter, but it should state publicly that it will take legal action against Spain in the European Court if there is little improvement in the next six months.”
In the meantime, the Committee recommends that the Government increase its use of its own diplomatic measures toward Spain, by intensifying its use of diplomatic protests and summoning the ambassador, as well as making the UK’s support for Spanish aims on the international stage dependent upon improvements to the situation in Gibraltar.