Britain and Spain agreed to a dialogue on whether fees could be imposed on people crossing the Spanish border with the U.K. territory of Gibraltar.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron called his Spanish counterpart, Mariano Rajoy, today to express concern after Spain’s foreign minister said a fee could be imposed on travelers. Cameron said on his Twitter Inc. feed the discussion had been “constructive” and that he “made clear my concerns re Gibraltar and that our position on sovereignty won’t change.”
There’s been increasing tension between Britain and Spain during the past few months over Gibraltar, situated on the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula. Spain disputes U.K. sovereignty over the territory, which is home to about 30,000 people. Delays at the frontier put in place by Spanish border guards after a dispute over fishing rights late last month led to British protests.
Rajoy told Cameron that Gibraltar’s decision to build an artificial reef with cement blocks off its coast was unacceptable and that the leaders agreed to instruct their foreign ministers to begin talks immediately to reach a resolution, according to a statement on the Spanish premier’s website. Border controls are necessary to control smuggling and are in line with the European Union rules, Rajoy said.
“Prime Minister Rajoy committed to reducing measures at the border,” according to a statement by Cameron’s office. “Both leaders agreed there should be a solution to the fishing dispute.”
Spain’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the two national governments would set up working groups to discuss the issue.
The dispute escalated after Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo was cited as telling ABC newspaper on Aug. 4 that Spain would step up border controls.
U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague spoke with Garcia-Margallo on the phone today, the Foreign Office in London said in an e-mailed statement. Hague reiterated the British position that the Spanish reaction was “disproportionate” and the two ministers agreed to continue their dialogue.
“I urged the Spanish authorities to de-escalate the situation,” Hague said. Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo “has been consistent throughout in his commitment to introduce measures on sustainable fishing in British Gibraltar territorial waters. These matters are within the constitutional competence of Gibraltar and show Gibraltar’s genuine willingness to resolve the fishing dispute,” Hague said.
Spain would be entitled to impose tighter border controls as long as they are “proportionate,” the European Commission said Aug. 5.