Spain accused of 'bully-boy' tactics against Gibraltar

Albert Poggio says that Gibraltar and the UK stand shoulder to-shoulder against Madrid's 'constant harassment'.

By Albert Poggio

11 Feb 2014

The current siege of Gibraltar, for that is what it surely is, has now been in place since August when Spain imposed checks of such intensity that drivers were delayed for up to eight hours when trying to cross into Spain. Similar checks have since been imposed on pedestrians and cyclists. While Madrid is clearly entitled to conduct some controls at its international borders, these checks must be proportionate and intelligence-led but, bizarrely, the border is now also experiencing long delays being caused to traffic leaving Spain to enter Gibraltar. The purpose of these Spanish checks serves little purpose except to inconvenience the thousands of people trying to travel into Gibraltar. It is most notable that, on the day of a well-publicised European commission inspection of the border, there wasn't a single car, cyclist or pedestrian waiting on either side of the border - something that did not come as a surprise to Gibraltar.

Spain's bully-boy tactics were imposed immediately after the government of Gibraltar created an artificial reef in an area of Gibraltar's territorial waters that, for many years, had been over-fished by Spanish boats using illegal 'raking' nets. It was in these same waters that, a few weeks earlier, a Gibraltarian jet-skier had been shot at by guardia civil officers using rubber bullets. Madrid's public outrage at Gibraltar's artificial reef must be seen in the light of Spain's claim to be 'a leading exponent of the deployment and use of artificial reefs in Europe'.

It is also worrying that the right-wing Spanish government has reneged on the Cordoba agreement, which, in 2006, established a tripartite forum between the governments of Spain, the United Kingdom and Gibraltar for cooperation on matters pertaining to Gibraltar. The agreement was the result of nearly two years of talks between the three governments, giving a voice to Gibraltar in talks between Britain and Spain for the first time. The agreement stemmed from an initiative by the Spanish Socialist Workers' party government in 2004, which proposed a dialogue, in which for the first time Gibraltar would take part as an independent third party.

[pullquote]In the face of Spain's heavy-handed intimidation, the government of Gibraltar has enjoyed the full support of members of both the UK house of commons and the house of lords[/pullquote]. Members across the political divide have frequently reiterated their continued support for Gibraltar and for the right of Gibraltarians to self-determination. In the house of commons there has been mounting anger over Spanish tactics which has led to calls for stronger action to be taken to protect Gibraltar from the constant harassment by Spain.

British parliamentarians have visited Gibraltar to show their support while, in the other direction, Gibraltarian MPs attended the house of commons chamber for prime minister David Cameron's questions, which included a debate on Gibraltar. At the commons they were able to thank some of the parliamentarians who had supported Gibraltar during the debate, including the well-supported chairman of the All Party group on the overseas territories Jim Dobbin MP.

At the end of August, the chief minister and his deputy met with the prime minister at No10 Downing street - a meeting which demonstrated the strength of the prime minister's concern for Gibraltar and its people at a time when Spain was taking illegal action at the border and continuing frequent incursions into British Gibraltar waters. During the course of these discussions Cameron repeated that he stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the Rock and its people at this difficult time. In October the chief minister also met with Ed Miliband, leader of the opposition and secured full support from the opposition and the Labour party.

If there was a single defining moment of the last few months it was 10 September, Gibraltar's national day, when members of the house of commons, the house of lords and the European parliament were welcomed on to the event's main stage by 10,000 happy Gibraltarians. National day culminated with the prime minister's personal message being broadcast on large screens around the square, something that had never been seen before and which received a tumultuous reception.