British PM Cameron “concerned” over Spain-Gibraltar conflict

Brussels warns Madrid that controls at colony border must be “proportionate”

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday said he was “seriously concerned” about the situation at the border between Gibraltar and Spain, according to a UK government spokesman. He also pointed out that Spain had not officially informed it of its plan to turn up the pressure on the British colony.

London is in close contact with Spain on the matter, explained the same spokesman, who did not want to give details of what steps the UK might now take. On Sunday the British Foreign Office told EL PAÍS that it intended to “use all necessary measures to safeguard British sovereignty” on the Rock and confirmed it had requested an explanation from Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

The diplomatic tension between the two governments has increased in the past week. After several months of controversy regarding the activities of Spanish fishermen in waters Gibraltar considers its sovereignty, the Rock responded a few days ago by dropping over 70 large blocks of concrete in the area in order to impede fishing boats from trawling the seabed.

In turn, Spain has replied to the move by ramping up controls at the frontier between the two territories, alleging there has been a suspicious increase in the amount of tobacco arriving from Gibraltar, presumably from illegal sources. The checks have led to delays of up to seven hours for people crossing the frontier.

At the same time, Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo has said he wants to toughen up the application of “Spanish and European legislation relating to the fight against smuggling, tax fraud and environmental protection.”

On Sunday night the Gibraltar government released a statement in which it categorized Foreign Minister Margallo’s warnings as “the most backward looking and threatening since before the frontier closed and are clearly reminiscent of the politics and tactics on Gibraltar deployed by the fascist regime led by Franco in the 1950s and 1960s.”

Last Friday the British government called in Spain’s ambassador in London, Federico Trillo, to ask for explanations about the measures being taken at the Gibraltar border.

And now Brussels has also waded into the conflict. A European spokesman on Monday said the European Commission would organize a meeting with Spanish authorities in September or October to tackle the issue.

It added that it would take note of the complaints it has received from both citizens and several members of the European Parliament following the escalation of the row because of the stricter tax controls imposed by the Spanish government, as well as the complaints of the Gibraltar authorities and the British government.

The Brussels spokesman also said that as Gibraltar does not belong to the Schengen area of open frontiers Spain has the right to impose border controls. However, he added that these ought to be “proportionate.”

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