Skip to main content


Volume 555: debated on Monday 10 December 2012

In my written ministerial statement of 18 July 2011, Official Report, column 79WS, I informed the House of the legal action that the Government were pursuing to reverse the adoption by the European Commission of a proposal from the Spanish Government to designate a site of Community importance (SCI) under the EU habitats directive (92/43/EEC). The SCI in question, named Estrecho Oriental, entirely overlaps the existing southern waters of Gibraltar SCI, which was listed by the UK and is managed by HM Government of Gibraltar, and overlaps virtually the whole of British Gibraltar territorial waters.

The UK Government launched a legal case against the Commission’s decision in the European General Court on 22 December 2009 on the basis that the UK was the only EU member state competent to propose an SCI listing in respect of British Gibraltar territorial waters and had already done so before Spain submitted its Estrecho Oriental listing. However, on 24 May 2011 the General Court ruled our case inadmissible on technical grounds. In my previous written ministerial statement I announced that the Government would appeal against the decision of the General Court and we duly did so. Our appeal has been heard by the European Court of Justice which published its judgment on 29 November 2012. I regret to inform the House that the Court has upheld the judgment of the General Court and dismissed the UK’s appeal. The Court has also dismissed the appeal of HM Government of Gibraltar in a separate legal case on the same issue.

The Government are disappointed by the judgment of the Court of Justice. However, this ruling is, like that of the General Court, on technical grounds and is not a judgment on the substantive points which were raised in the Government’s case. The judgment does not mean that the UK Government recognise the Spanish Estrecho Oriental SCI listing. Nor does it confer any rights on Spain within British Gibraltar territorial waters. We are confident of the UK’s sovereignty over British Gibraltar territorial waters. The Court’s judgment does not change that. Nor is our position on sovereignty changed by the Spanish Government’s announcement on 30 November that they have formally approved plans to designate the Estrecho Oriental site of Community importance as a special area of conservation (SAC). The UK Government do not recognise the original Spanish SCI listing and we do not recognise their attempt to designate an SAC either. We have made our position on this clear to the Spanish Government.

We would take a grave view of any attempts by Spain to exert any authority or control within British Gibraltar territorial waters as part of implementation of an SAC management plan or for any other reason. Any attempt by a Spanish state vessel, or vessel acting on behalf of the Spanish state, to exercise jurisdiction within British Gibraltar territorial waters is a violation of British sovereignty and we will respond accordingly. We will continue to take whatever action we consider necessary to protect British sovereignty and the interests of Gibraltar, its people and economy.

Following the judgment of the Court of Justice and the announcement of Spain’s SAC we are taking urgent steps, in consultation with HM Government of Gibraltar, to explore all further legal and political options to remove the Spanish listing and protect British and Gibraltar’s interests. I will continue to inform the House of significant developments on this issue.