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Britain threatens legal action over Gibraltar

August 12, 2013|By Janet Stobart
  • Britain's helicopter carrier Illustrious leaves Portsmouth navy base in southern England on Monday. British warships began setting sail for the Mediterranean for a naval exercise that will see one vessel dock in Gibraltar, amid tensions with Spain over the British-held territory.
Britain's helicopter carrier Illustrious leaves Portsmouth navy… (Andrew Cowie / Agence France-Presse…)

LONDON-- In an escalating spat with Spain over Gibraltar, the tiny British-ruled promontory at the tip of the Iberian peninsula, Britain is considering legal action to confirm its sovereignty over the territory known as The Rock.

A spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters Monday that the British leader was disappointed following talks last week with his Spanish counterpart, Mariano Rajoy, and diplomatic exchanges between the two countries’ foreign ministers.

According to reports of the daily briefing to parliamentary correspondents, Cameron was “disappointed by the failure of the Spanish to remove the additional border checks this weekend, and we are now considering what legal action is open to us. This would be an unprecedented step; we want to consider it carefully before making a decision to pursue.”

The row has resuscitated long-standing rancor over what many Spaniards see as a vestige of colonialism, though British sovereignty was recognized by the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht. The current clash was sparked by the British decision to place concrete blocks off the coast of Gibraltar to protect fishing reserves from the Spanish practice of trawling the sea floor, prompting Spanish outrage.

The Spanish government responded with assiduous border checks at the Gibraltar-Spain frontier causing hours of traffic jams for commuters and visitors between the two territories and a proposal to charge an entry tariff to Gibraltar equivalent to $66.

The dispute has continued over the past week despite the high-level talks, to the point where Britain is threatening legal action possibly through the United Nations or the European Union, of which both countries are members.

Spanish authorities for their part reportedly talk of raising the question at an impending visit to Argentina by Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, where the issue could be united to the Argentine claim over the British-ruled Falkland Islands, according to Spanish newspapers Monday.

Meanwhile, British warships left the southern English ports of Portsmouth and Plymouth on Monday bound for military exercises in the Mediterranean. Although the maneuvers were planned long ago with the agreement of both governments, the convoy will be seen as a symbolic statement of sovereignty as they pass by Gibraltar with one of them docking in the harbor.

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