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Gibraltar and Spain

Volume 749: debated on Wednesday 20 November 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the European Commission’s monitoring report on cross-border traffic between Gibraltar and Spain.

My Lords, I am afraid that you have the McNally and Warsi show today.

We welcome the fact that the Commission has put Spain on notice and has made recommendations to the Spanish Government to improve the functioning of the border, which, if implemented, will reduce delays. We have published the Commission’s letter to the UK and Gibraltar and we encourage Spain to do likewise. Chief Minister Picardo has welcomed this and has confirmed that Gibraltar will act on the Commission’s recommendations.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her reply and to the Prime Minister for his strong support for the Gibraltarians. Will the Minister accept that, having visited Gibraltar at the invitation of the Gibraltar Government this month, and as a former governor, I can confirm without any doubt that border delays by Spanish authorities in the past few months have been not only disproportionate but a deliberate abuse of human rights and freedom of movement on a scale that would be totally unacceptable in any other part of the European Union and in which local Spaniards as well as Gibraltarians are suffering?

Will the Minister also accept that an average of five Spanish incursions a day into British-Gibraltar territorial waters could at any moment lead to a serious incident? Therefore, will the Government now demonstrate by deeds and not just words that we will exercise our responsibilities to Gibraltarians against this Franco-ist style intimidation by taking appropriate legal action now, by ensuring the Commission’s recommendations on broader traffic are implemented speedily by Spain, and by giving the new governor and commander-in-chief adequate resources to uphold British sovereignty?

I thank the noble Lord for that further question. Of course, he comes to these matters with great expertise and experience from his involvement with Gibraltar. We are not surprised at the Commission’s conclusions in relation to border issues there. Of course, the border operated more smoothly than normal when the Commission was visiting. But I agree with the noble Lord that there are huge challenges and there continue to be huge delays at the border. We remain confident that Spain has acted, and continues to act, unlawfully.

I hear what the noble Lord says about action, but although all our options are on the table, we feel at this stage that it is best to pursue this matter through diplomatic means. It was for that reason that, after a further lengthy incursion, the ambassador was summoned to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office yesterday where we made our views clear to him.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the fact that the date and time of the European Commission’s visit to Gibraltar was advertised in advance means that it was not exactly the sort of spot check that could have revealed some of the worst practices that were carried out during the summer months and which affected the people of Gibraltar, Spanish workers and tourists alike? Have the Government queried that method of procedure with the Commission?

My noble friend makes an important point. That is why I said that we were not surprised that when the Commission visited things were much better than normal. It was not just a question of delays and inconvenience; it was concerning in terms of delays to ambulances, for example. It was therefore a real threat to individuals’ lives.

We are heartened to hear that the Commission intends to return. It may well be that a return without a lot of notice may be the right way forward.

My Lords, it is good to be reminded that Britain played a significant part some years ago in helping to secure for Spain membership of both NATO and the European Community. When that was taking place, I was able, with the assistance of my opposite Spanish number, Fernando Moran, to secure a foundational solution to the long-existing Gibraltar dispute. There was a signature on agreement for the reopening of Spain’s land border with the colony, which had been closed as long ago as 1969 by General Franco.

Those agreements laid the way for a proper solution of the sovereignty of the colony. At that time, Anglo-Spanish relations were greatly enhanced by that understanding. By 1988, each of the two monarchs was able to make a state visit to each other’s country, and Margaret Thatcher herself paid a successful visit to Madrid. With all of that sensible conduct of removing the historic obstacle, is it not now time for the Spaniards to be reminded of their undertaking?

My noble and learned friend makes an incredibly important point. He is right—there have been long periods of good co-operation and real progress on this issue. Indeed, until 2011 the trilateral process—the forum for dialogue between the UK and Spain, with Gibraltar as an equal partner—worked incredibly well. It is sad that, after the election of the Spanish Government in December 2011, Spain withdrew from that process. We have offered ad hoc talks as a way of moving this matter forward but eventually we would like to see a return to that trilateral process.

My Lords, the events of the last couple of weeks—the fishing boat incursions, the border restrictions and the events yesterday with the Spanish naval vessels—demand of all sides of the House that we are very clear that the rights to their choice about nationality rest with the people of Gibraltar. That should be said, and said clearly.

I wonder if there is a view in the Government about whether the EU—of which, after all, both we and Spain are members—could help create some mutual modus operandi which would be beneficial to Gibraltarians while recognising their rights to their own nationality as they seek it. These diplomatic efforts need a place of focus. We can surely provide it.

I hear what the noble Lord says. We have made this offer of ad hoc talks, which we think is probably the first stage where these discussions could take place. We are not entirely convinced that for some of the areas where the EU feels that it has competences where Gibraltar is concerned, it does indeed have those competences. As I said earlier, it would be right to return to the trilateral process where Gibraltar was an equal party to those discussions.