Gibraltar row: UK must be 'more robust' with Spain, MPs say

Gibraltar from a Spanish beach Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The UK must "get off the fence" over Gibraltar, MPs say.

Britain should set out a "more robust" response to Spanish incursions into British waters in Gibraltar and consider legal action against the Madrid government, MPs have said.

The Foreign Affairs Committee said Spanish behaviour in the long dispute over UK sovereignty was unacceptable.

It warned ministers it was time to "get off the fence" with Gibraltarians now feeling "under siege".

The UK government said it protested against "every illegal incursion".


Spain has contested the UK's claim to Gibraltar - a British Overseas Territory - for centuries but tensions have increased in recent months amid a row over fishing rights.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Long queues were common the Spain-Gibraltar border last summer after Madrid imposed stricter customs checks

Spain imposed strict controls at its border crossing with the Rock last year after Gibraltar built an artificial reef in contested waters - Gibraltar says the reef will encourage sea life but Spain says it will damage its fishing industry.

There have been more than 600 Spanish incursions into British waters since the start of 2013, according to the Foreign Office.

The committee said: "The behaviour of Spain toward Gibraltar is unacceptable.

"A Nato and EU ally is, as a matter of policy, deliberately impacting the economy of a British Overseas Territory.

"We have no doubt that delays imposed by Spain at the border with Gibraltar are politically motivated, and that the border is being used a means of coercion".

MPs argued that the UK government's policy of trying to de-escalate tensions has had "little discernible effect".

Instead, the government should set out "naval and police options" it plans to use in response to incursions, they argue.

Ministers should also give Spain a six-month deadline to ease the situation or take the country to the European Court, the MPs add.

'Diplomatic pressure'

The Spanish ambassador has been summoned to the Foreign Office four times since 2011 to hear protests over incursions.

Brussels has also sent inspectors to the crossing.

But MPs on the committee said protests are often made weeks after the event, giving the impression officials were simply "going through the motions".

They call for the ambassador to be called more regularly, with all incidents reported in no more than seven days.

Diplomatic pressure should also be put on Spain, the MPs argue, including threatening to drop UK support for its ambitions to gain a place on the UN Security Council.

A UK government spokesman said: "We've been absolutely clear that we will never ever enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their wishes.

"And we protest each and every illegal incursion by Spanish state vessels into Gibraltar territorial waters."

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