Gibraltar yesterday blasted a Spanish threat to impose a 50 euro (US$66) car toll at the border with the tiny British-held territory as North Korean-style “saber rattling.”
The British outpost in the Mediterranean, known as “the Rock,” was outraged by the comments of Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo in an interview published on Sunday in conservative daily ABC.
It was the latest in a string of spats going back decades between Spain and Gibraltar, frequently sparked by disputes over fishing rights around the British outpost that Madrid wants to reclaim.
“What we have seen this weekend is saber-rattling of the sort that we haven’t seen for some time,” Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said in an interview with Britain’s Radio 4.
“The things that Mr Garcia-Margallo has said are more reminiscent of the type of statement you would hear from North Korea than from an EU partner,” he added.
In the interview with ABC, Spain’s foreign minister complained about Gibraltar’s decision to build a concrete artificial reef in surrounding waters so as to stop alleged incursions by Spanish fishing boats.
The foreign minister said Spain would consider introducing a tax to enter or leave Gibraltar, bringing in money that could be used to help Spanish fisherman who had suffered from Gibraltar’s new reef.
It would also consider stopping at the frontier any deliveries of concrete or other materials required to build the reef; closing Spanish airspace to restrict some flights, reforming online gambling laws to oblige Gibraltar to use Spanish servers if it wants to operate in Spain, allowing Madrid to rake in taxes.
British Prime Minister David Cameron was “seriously concerned” about developments at the border, his spokesman said in London.
However, Spain has not raised with Britain the reported proposals for fees or airspace restrictions, he said.
Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht, but has long argued that it should be returned to Spanish sovereignty.
Britain refuses to do so against the wishes of Gibraltarians.
The latest row came after Gibraltar accused Spain of deliberately holding up cars entering the territory by searching every vehicle and creating delays of up to six hours.
The delays ended on Monday last week after British Foreign Secretary William Hague telephoned Garcia-Margallo to express “serious concerns” at the stoppages and Britain’s Foreign Office formally protested to the Spanish ambassador in London.