Gibraltar: Time to get off the fence - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents


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. It is time for the Government to get off the fence and take a tougher line.

Spain has long disputed the UK's sovereignty over Gibraltar, but since the People's Party government in Spain was elected in 2011, it has taken a more hard-line approach and has significantly increased its pressure on Gibraltar and its people.Over the last three years, Gibraltarians have suffered long border delays; maritime incursions; and heightened rhetoric from Spanish ministers about its sovereignty and its economic affairs.

This has resulted in strong criticism traded between the UK and Gibraltar, and Spain, who are ordinarily strong European partners. We consider the reasons for the increased tension, including Spanish allegations against Gibraltar's financial system and smuggling controls, as well as suggestions that Spain is seeking to distract from its own domestic troubles. We regret that dialogue between the UK, Gibraltar and Spain has been suspended over the last three years, and ask the Government to set out what offer it has made to Spain, and how it intends to secure talks before the next election.

We consider the ways in which Spain has exerted pressure on Gibraltar's maritime and border. We are deeply concerned about the dramatic increase in maritime incursions in British Gibraltarian Territorial Waters, and the hostile tactics of some of the vessels that conduct them. We applaud the restraint of British and Gibraltarian vessels in their attempts to enforce British sovereignty, and are disappointed in the FCO's current practice of lodging diplomatic protests weeks after the event, robbing them of all force.We were particularly concerned to learn that in March 2014 it had taken the FCO weeks to register diplomatic protests about even serious incidents, which gives the wrong impression to Spain about how seriously the UK takes this issue.

We have no doubt that delays imposed by Spain at the border with Gibraltar are politically motivated, and that the border is being used as a means of coercion. This is unacceptable in a European partner. The Government is right to look to the European Commission to address this matter, but it should state publicly that it will take legal action against Spain in the European Court if there is little improvement in the next six months.As a potential solution to the border problems, we consider the possibility of Gibraltar joining Schengen while the UK remains outside. Although we can see the merit in this idea in terms of removing a mechanism of pressure and creating goodwill, we suspect that the legal and economic implications could be considerable. The UK Government should support the Government of Gibraltar as it conducts its review.

The Government should robustly oppose continued attempts by Spain to use international institutions as a means of securing international support for its case.Gibraltar remains on the UN list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, despite repeated UK government attempts to de-list it.We ask the Government to set out what action it is taking in order to achieve this.

Spain also continues to refuse to allow direct military movements or communications between Gibraltar and Spain, even among its NATO partners. This restriction is unacceptable, and it is not appropriate for the UK to simply work around it. We are disappointed that the Government is not taking a more active approach to lifting the NATO restriction, including by enlisting its NATO partners' support and by raising the matter formally at meetings.

The combination of direct pressure on its border and sovereign waters as well as diplomatic pressure at the EU,UN and NATO, have resulted in a feeling in Gibraltar of being under siege. This has placed the UK Government in a difficult position. It has a broad and strong bilateral relationship with Spain that is in the interest of all British citizens, but the UK Government also has responsibilities toward Gibraltar and cannot ignore actions by Spain that are intended to make the lives of Gibraltarians difficult.The Government has taken a cautious approach until now in order to 'de-escalate' tensions. While laudable, this has not produced acceptable results for the people of Gibraltar. Spain should not be able to pursue aggressive policies toward Gibraltar without harming its relationship with London, and the UK Government must make this clear.

It is now time to think again about what measures can be taken to discourage Spain from exerting pressure on Gibraltar. While recognising that the UK Government has limited scope for action if it is not to escalate the dispute, we recommend that the Government increase its use of its own diplomatic measures toward Spain (in terms of diplomatic protests and summons) as well as making the UK's support for Spanish aims on the international stage dependent upon improvements to the situation in Gibraltar.

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Prepared 1 July 2014