Tensions rise over Gibraltar checks

By Nigel Morris

British PM raises serious concerns with Spanish over access to Rock with painfully long waits at the border.

Gibraltar sits accoss the water from the Spanish town of La Linea de Concepcion, Spain. Photo / AP
Gibraltar sits accoss the water from the Spanish town of La Linea de Concepcion, Spain. Photo / AP

Tensions between London and Madrid over Gibraltar are growing after the Spanish Prime Minister rebuffed an appeal by his British counterpart David Cameron to scale back contentious border checks with the British territory.

Cameron called his counterpart, Mariano Rajoy, to spell out his "serious concerns" after the Spanish Government raised the prospect of imposing a €50 fee (NZ$83) on vehicles entering Gibraltar and closing Spanish airspace to flights heading for the Rock.

The diplomatic crisis - which blew up over a dispute over fishing waters - was brought to a head at the weekend as drivers were forced to queue for up to six hours before they were allowed to cross into Gibraltar.

Britain has already registered a formal complaint with Madrid and is understood to be contemplating legal action to get the moves blocked.

Cameron warned his counterpart in a 15-minute phone call of the "real risk" of harm to relations between the countries unless the problems over frontiers checks were resolved.

Downing Street said he had obtained a promise from Rajoy to reduce the protracted checks at the border.

However, a statement from the Spanish Prime Minister's office painted a different picture. It made no reference to cutting border checks and reported he had told Cameron "the adopted measures were perfectly in accordance with the Schengen border code", which governs travel between EU member states.

British officials acknowledged there was still much work ahead to "de-escalate"the standoff.

Nor was there any prospect of Brussels brokering a rapid solution to the standoff. The European Commission is sending a team to examine the border controls, but does not expect talks to take place with Spain on the issue until next month at the earliest. It confirmed the controls are allowed because Gibraltar is not part of the Schengen agreement, which permits people to travel freely within the Schengen area of 26 countries. Independent

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