GIBRALTAR’S chief minister has accused Spain of acting like North Korea and sabre-rattling over the country’s new hardline stance on Gibraltar.
Fabian Picardo said Spanish foreign minister Jose Garcia-Margallo was being belligerent when he suggested that a €50 (£43.40) fee could be imposed on every vehicle entering or leaving the British Mediterranean outpost through its border with Spain.
Mr Garcia-Margallo said the proceeds could be used to help Spanish fishermen who have lost out because of damage to fishing grounds allegedly caused by Gibraltarian authorities. Such a fee could impose punitive costs on Gibraltarians who regularly commute into Spain to work.
Last night, the Prime Minister’s spokesman told of David Cameron’s concern about events at the Spanish border, but proposals for fees or airspace restrictions have not been raised with the UK by the authorities in Madrid.
“Clearly, we remain seriously concerned by the events at the Spain/Gibraltar border,” he said.
The government is in “close contact” with the Spanish about the issue, but the spokesman refused to give further details about what the next steps might be.
The Prime Minister last spoke to his counterpart, Mariano Rajoy, about the issue at a European Council in June, before the latest escalation of tensions.
Mr Picardo said “hell will freeze over” before the authorities in Gibraltar remove an artificial reef that Madrid claims is harming Spanish fishermen, adding that any border costs would violate European Union freedom of movement rules.
Spain is also considering closing its airspace to flights heading to the Rock. Mr Picardo claimed such a move would be dangerous and said it was the “politics of madness”.
He said: “What we have seen this weekend is sabre-rattling of the sort that we haven’t seen for some time.
“The things that Mr Garcia-Margallo has said are more reminiscent of the type of statement you’d hear from North Korea than from an EU partner.
“We’ve seen it before, during Franco’s time during the 1960s, but I think all of us hoped that those politics were never going to come back and that the much more enlightened politics of Mr Moratinos [Miguel Angel Moratinos], who was the previous-but- one foreign minister of Spain, would prevail.
“They talked about people working together and creating economic benefits for the citizens on both sides of the frontier rather than the belligerence we are seeing now.”
The Foreign Office voiced concerns on Sunday over Mr Garcia-Margallo’s comments and said Britain would not compromise its sovereignty over Gibraltar.
A spokesman made clear that the UK expects Madrid to live up to the commitments it made in the 2006 Cordoba Agreement, which included deals on issues such as border crossings and access for flights.
Mr Garcia-Margallo’s comments represent the latest escalation in the dispute over the status of Gibraltar, following a number of alleged Spanish incursions into the territory’s waters.
Spain’s main opposition party, the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), criticised what it said was “an escalation of bravado” between the governments of Spain and Gibraltar.