The current escalation in the long-running dispute between Britain and Spain over the sovereignty of Gibraltar is displaying "disturbing Falklands-style tendencies according to one member of the European Parliament representing The Rock.
Gibraltar police vessels supported by the Royal Navy intercepted a Spanish trawler shadowed by two Spanish police boats fishing off the Rock on Monday (see photo above). After a tense few moments the trawler finally left Gibraltar's fishing grounds without incident, but there were similar stand-offs last week
, with reports that boat hulls did collide but consequently downplayed as accidental collisions.
The Spanish fishermen - based in the southern Spanish port city of Algeciras across the Bay from Gibraltar - say they are being prevented from fishing off the Rock in waters they claim as their own. But according to the Gibraltarian Chief Minister Fabian Picardo fishing with nets in waters Gibraltar claims as its own is outlawed under its 1991 environmental law
aimed at protecting fish numbers unless a licence is issued.
Spain ceded control of Gibraltar to the British in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht
. The UK recognises The Rock it as one of its overseas territories and its 30,000 inhabitants have British citizenship. But Spain has historically rejected British and Gibraltarian claims over the waters beyond Gibraltar's port, arguing that the treaty never included any mention of them.
Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo has recently described
the tense and (thankfully) not yet confrontational stand-offs between the British Royal Navy and the Spanish police boats backing up Spanish trawlers as “an obviously carefully premeditated challenge to our indisputable sovereignty, jurisdiction, and control of British Gibraltar Territorial Waters
” and now the region’s MEPs are speaking out in equally strong terms.
Conservative MEP Julie Girling
has compared the situation to that of the Falkland Islands, saying: “what we don’t want in Gibraltar is a situation like the Falklands. There seems to be disturbing parallels in attempts to damage the livelihoods of Gibraltarian fishermen.
“The Spanish are not being reasonable in their actions; there must be a prompt dialogue between the PDP, the Government and Spanish fishermen,
” she said
. “The aggressive intervention of the Guardia Civil is not acceptable. There must be a mutual acceptance and respect of Gibraltarian waters by Spanish fleets and the Spanish Government.
”Sir Graham Watson
has said it is “unacceptable
” that Spain is turning a local fishing dispute into a sovereignty issue. "As the Liberal Democrat MEP for Gibraltar, I fully support the Gibraltar government's efforts to reach an agreement with the La Linea fishing industry,
” he said
. “I hope that the Algeciras fishermen will also respect any such agreement. Should Spain persist with this belligerence, we will not hesitate to pursue this at European level.
Mrs Girling’s Conservative colleagues have also responded: Ashley Fox
has said he had written to the European Commission to condemn “this latest act of provocation
” by Spain, while Giles Chichester
has said that the Spanish are “being irrational and need to get a grip
".“What happens in Gibraltar frankly is not the responsibility of the Spanish. Gibraltar is under British rule and that is how it will stay for the foreseeable future
,” he said
The issue was raised in London yesterday at talks between Foreign Secretary William Hague and his Spanish counterpart, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo
whose brief was to demand a return to a 1999 fishing agreement and to reiterate that Gibraltar has no territorial waters. However Mr Hague made it clear that sovereignty was not up for discussion and upheld British sovereignty in respect of Gibraltar's territorial waters.
Following the two-hour meeting both sides thus urged the Gibraltar Government and Spanish fishermen to find "a local solution"
to the ongoing fishing dispute - a paradox that Spanish daily newspaper El Pais duly took note of
Labels: Ashley Fox, Giles Chichester, Graham Watson, Julie Girling