Whenever there is a spat between the UK and Spanish governments, the people who end up suffering are the residents of Gibraltar, Spanish workers who travel to the Rock for their livelihood, businesses on both sides of the border and tourists from all over the world visiting the territory.
There have been various niggles during the past few months, including incursions by police vessels on both sides and alleged shooting at jetskis.
The Gibraltar government then decided to dump seventy concrete slabs into the waters around the Rock to prevent inshore trawling, presumably to protect shellfish stocks, and coincidentally out came the sabres.
The Spanish authorities then increased border checks, stopping and searching almost every vehicle and this resulted in horrendous queues, thousands waiting in line in searing temperatures for as long as seven hours. Gibraltar is not part of the Schengen agreement whereby EU citizens are permitted free entry into participating member states, which means that technically Spain is well within its rights to increase such controls.
The EU agrees that Spain must maintain border controls but adds that these must be ‘proportionate’, ‘non-discriminatory’ and abide by EU law. Spain argues that the stricter controls are to combat smuggling, although they always appear to coincide with diplomatic incidents. The border situation is made worse by the fact that the Spanish authorities have never introduced a red-green channelling system to allow easier passage for those travellers with nothing to declare.
As the spat threatens to escalate, the Spanish authorities are considering introducing a number of new measures including preventing ‘bunkering’, the refuelling of ships at sea, the closing of Spanish airspace to flights heading to Gibraltar and a ‘congestion’ charge of €50 per day each way for vehicles travelling to and from the Rock. This, the Spanish Government says, is to protect the interests of the Spanish and, especially, of the inhabitants of Gibraltar.
The UGT union believes that the escalating situation and climate of confrontation endangers the employment of around 7,000 Andalucians who work in Gibraltar.
Meanwhile, as the politicians sit in their ivory towers thinking of new ways to annoy each other, it is the people, as usual, who suffer the consequences. These situations have been a regular occurrence during the past fifty years or more. Dialogue, naturally, would be in the best interests of those on both sides of this contentious border.
Spain has always disputed British sovereignty of Gibraltar, granted under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. It is, of course, physically and geographically part of Spain. Just like Ceuta and Melilla!!!