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

1  Introduction

1. Spain has long disputed the UK's sovereignty over Gibraltar, which is located at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula and is one of the UK's fourteen remaining Overseas Territories. The last three years have seen an increase in tensions between Spain and the UK over the status of Gibraltar, with increased maritime incursions into British Gibraltarian Territorial Waters (BGTW) and a prolonged suspension of diplomatic talks between the three parties. In the summer of 2013, the dispute received international coverage when Spain imposed controls on the border resulting in delays of up to seven hours for vehicles passing in and out of Gibraltar. The incident prompted diplomatic complaints, and a referral to the European Commission by both the UK and Spain. The Foreign Secretary made a Statement to the House of Commons on 2 September 2013 in which he described the actions and threats of the Spanish Government as an attempt to exert pressure on the people of Gibraltar that was "wholly unacceptable". He said that the heightened rhetoric of the Spanish Foreign Minister was concerning and "clearly intimidating to the people of Gibraltar"; and he suggested that "there may be worse to come from the Spanish Government".[1]

2. The Committee maintains an interest of the FCO's work on the Overseas Territories, and in December 2013 it held its annual evidence session on the Overseas Territories from Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister, Mark Simmonds MP. In the lightof theproblems duringsummer 2013in Gibraltar, we took the opportunity to ask Mark Simmonds about the dispute. We then visited Gibraltar in March 2014, where we took evidence from the Chief Minister, the Hon. Fabian Picardo, and met a range of local officials and representatives(a list can be found in Annex A). Following our return, we held an evidence session on Gibraltar with the Minister for Europe, the Rt Hon. David Lidington MP, in April 2014. Although we did not put out an official call for evidence, we received some correspondence from concerned members of the public, along with data from the Government of Gibraltar, to which we refer in this report.

3. We twice invited the Spanish Ambassador to the UK, His Excellency Federico Trillo-Figueroa, to give evidence to the Committee's inquiry.The Ambassadormet privately with the Committee Chairman, and then offered a private meeting with the Committee. We declined this invitation because we wanted to get evidence on-the record. The Ambassador later provided a translated transcript of a statement on Gibraltar by the Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo, to Spain's own Foreign Affairs Committee in September 2013.

4. In this report, we consider the current situation in Gibraltar and the extent to which the border and maritime problems have been resolved since summer 2013. We acknowledge that the UK has a strong and close relationship with Spain, which has been home tohundreds of thousands of British nationals for decades. Weconsider the various means by which Spain is nonetheless exerting pressure on Gibraltar, including at the border and via European Union institutions. We go on to assess the UK Government's policies toward Gibraltar, and whether the UK Government's actions are effective and proportionate to the problems in Gibraltar.

5. This report builds on a number of important reports by our predecessor Committees on Gibraltar.These include a detailed report in 1999 at a time of similar border and maritime difficulties; two follow-up reports in 2000 and 2001; and further detailed reports in late 2001 and 2002 at the time of joint sovereignty talks between Spain and the UK over Gibraltar.[2] The Committee returned to the issue in its 2008 report on the Overseas Territories, which also made recommendations about the UK-Spain dispute over Gibraltar.[3]

1   HC Deb, 2 September 2013, col 11WS Back

2   Foreign Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of Session 1998-99, Gibraltar, HC 366; Foreign Affairs Committee, Ninth Report of Session 1999-2000, Gibraltar: Follow-up, HC 863; Foreign Affairs Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2000-01, Gibraltar, HC 319; Foreign Affairs Committee, First Report of Session 2001-02, Gibraltar, HC 413; and Foreign Affairs Committee, Eleventh Report of Session 2001-02, Gibraltar, HC 973  Back

3   Foreign Affairs Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2007-08, Overseas Territories, HC 147-I Back

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Prepared 1 July 2014