Britain is seeking an explanation from Spain after its foreign minister suggested a fee could be imposed on travelers crossing the border with the U.K. territory of Gibraltar, escalating a dispute between the two countries.
“The Spanish have not raised the prospect of border fees with us,” Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman, Christian Cubitt, told reporters in London today, declining to comment directly on remarks made in the media yesterday by Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo.
Cubitt said U.K. officials are in “close contact” with the Spanish authorities and are seeking a “political dialog” on the issue. Foreign Secretary William Hague told Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo today that the U.K. will “continue to raise our concerns with Spain,” according to an e-mailed statement.
Garcia-Margallo said yesterday Spain will step up controls on Gibraltar following a dispute over fishing rights. Spain would be entitled to impose controls as long as they are “proportionate,” the European Commission said today.
Spokesman Frederic Vincent told reporters in Brussels that the commission wrote to Spain about Gibraltar in the spring and will “raise the issue with the Spanish authorities probably via a meeting here in Brussels in September or October.”
Gibraltar, like the U.K., isn’t part of the European passport-free travel zone, meaning that “controls of the border of Gibraltar can happen, but they have to be proportionate,” Vincent said.
Asked about Vincent’s comments, Cameron’s spokesman declined to comment.
Spanish tax authorities will investigate 6,000 people domiciled in Gibraltar but living in Spain and a 50-euro ($66.38) levy may be imposed to cross the border, Garcia-Margallo told the ABC newspaper in an interview.
“Clearly we remain seriously concerned by events on the Spanish-Gibraltar border,” Cubitt said. Cameron returns from vacation later today as Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who is married to Spanish lawyer Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, begins his holiday in Spain.
Hague said he urged Picardo “to avoid actions which could increase tension further.”
“We discussed the need for a political solution to the current tension with Spain, which would be firmly in the interests of communities on both sides of Gibraltar’s border with Spain,” he said. “We agreed that it was important to respond to actions, not rhetoric.”
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has been trying to change the subject after a month in which he’s been bombarded with allegations he accepted illegal payments from a secret party slush fund. Rajoy, who denies the claims, announced a decline in jobless claims a day ahead of the official release during his parliamentary testimony over the reports of corruption and approved more than 20 decrees at his last Cabinet before the summer break, most of them concerning employment.
Spain’s opposition Socialist Party attributed the move by Rajoy’s ruling People’s Party to political swagger.
“The escalation of braggadocio over Gibraltar only leads down a dead end,” Juan Moscoso, head of EU policy for the socialists, said in a statement on his party’s website. “It will only have very negative effects for the people, the workers and the fisherman.”