PMs talk to ease Gibraltar tensions
David Cameron told Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy the situation at the border with Gibraltar is "not acceptable" as the two leaders held talks aimed at calming tensions.
No 10 said that in the "constructive" phone call Mr Rajoy agreed to reducing measures at the border which have led to lengthy delays for Gibraltarians, but a statement issued by the Spanish government made no reference to any such concession and insisted procedures at the frontier were proportionate.
Speaking after the call, the Prime Minister said he was very clear that Britain "will always stand up for the people of Gibraltar".
His intervention followed a formal protest by Britain's ambassador in Madrid over "disproportionate" checks at the border and Spanish threats to levy a charge on vehicles crossing the border and to close airspace.
The dispute has flared up over allegations of damage to fishing grounds caused by Gibraltarian authorities following the creation of an artificial reef. Mr Cameron said: "I had a clear and constructive conversation with the Spanish prime minister. I think it is important that we recognise it is not acceptable, what has been happening with the people of Gibraltar, in terms of delays and other things that they have faced. I made that point clear.
"Of course, there is a fishing dispute between Gibraltar and Spain and that needs to be settled and we agreed that should be settled but it is not right to escalate things in the way that has been done and I made that very clear to the Spanish prime minister. We agreed that our foreign ministers would speak and try to resolve these issues but I am very clear that Britain will always stand up for the people of Gibraltar."
Mr Cameron added that he was pleased the leaders had been able to agree to start resolving the issue. Speaking on a visit to the North Devon Show, he said: "I am satisfied that we agreed to make some progress but I will only really be satisfied when this is properly de-escalated and the interests of people in Gibraltar are properly looked after."
A No 10 spokeswoman said the Prime Minister had stressed there was a "real risk" to the UK-Spanish relationship unless the issue was resolved. "The PM made clear that our position on the sovereignty of Gibraltar and its surrounding waters will not change. He also reiterated, as the PM and Mr Rajoy had previously agreed, that the issue should not damage our bilateral relations," she said. "However, there was a real risk of this happening unless the situation at the border improved."
The European Commission has suggested organising a "technical meeting" with the Spanish authorities about the border controls in September or October.
A spokesman said that because Gibraltar, like the UK, was not part of the Schengen open borders area in Europe "checks on persons can be carried out at its border with Spain". Customs checks were also allowed which "may include inspecting means of transport, luggage and other goods carried by or on persons". "These controls must, however, remain proportionate," a spokesman said.