British Prime Minister David Cameron has urged the president of the European Commission (EC) to dispatch a monitoring team to the border between Spain and Gibraltar, where increased checks imposed by Spanish authorities have been at the center of a diplomatic spat.
In a telephone call to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, the UK prime minister underlined Britain’s belief that the additional checks were “politically motivated and disproportionate,” and contrary to the EU right of free movement as a result.
He said Britain was now actively considering legal action and had begun collating evidence on the “sporadic nature of the measures” which would prove they were illegitimate.
Political tensions in the region flared after the British territory began work on a concrete reef in the Mediterranean, which Spain claims will destroy fishing in the area.
Spain’s increased border controls have led to delays of several hours for those traveling to and from the British overseas territory.
The European Commission had previously said that it planned to send a team of monitors to Gibraltar next month to check whether Spain was breaking EU rules on frontier controls, but on Friday a Downing Street spokesman said Cameron had asked Barroso to ensure it was sent “urgently.”
The spokesman said: “The prime minister emphasized that the commission has a responsibility to do this as part of its role overseeing the application of union law. President Barroso responded that the European Commission are closely monitoring the situation and that, following a thorough legal assessment, they would not hesitate to take any measures necessary to uphold EU law.”
The Downing Street spokesman added that Nick Clegg, the British deputy prime minister, who speaks Spanish, was due to call his Spanish counterpart, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, later yesterday to reiterate Britain’s concerns.
He would be pressing for a way to de-escalate the issue.
Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said yesterday that Spanish people living around Gibraltar support the British territory rather than their own government in the latest row over border controls.
Picardo said that he was in frequent “fluid” contact with local politicians in the Spanish border town of La Linea and other areas where the more than 4,000 Spaniards who work in the peninsula live.
Blaming the problems on the government in Madrid, he said locals were supportive of Gibraltar as an “economic engine” and wanted to see an easing of the border restrictions.
Picardo also warned that the fluctuating blockade could directly impact on the already struggling Spanish economy if it went on too long, with construction jobs that would normally go to Iberian workers being awarded elsewhere.
“I have no contact with Madrid, but I have a lot of fluid contact with mayors in La Linea and others municipalities in the area who are very concerned about the effect the controls being imposed by Madrid could have on the working lives of people who come in and out of Gibraltar every day,” he said.