DIPLOMACY

Britain will move to “safeguard” sovereignty over Gibraltar

Diplomatic tension mounts after Spain tightens border controls

Madrid's announcement that it will get tougher on Gibraltar elicited a response from the British government, which will "use all necessary measures to safeguard British sovereignty" over the Rock, according to a Foreign Office spokesman who talked to EL PAÍS.

Diplomatic tension between both governments over this issue went up a notch this week when Gibraltar began sinking large blocks of concrete studded with hooks in an area that it considers its territorial waters. This effectively prevents Spanish fishermen from casting their nets in a section that Spain does not recognize as being Gibraltar's.

Madrid responded to this with greater border controls, claiming a suspicious increase of tobacco shipments to the Spanish side that it attributed to smuggling activities. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo said that Spain will act against this Gibraltarian water policy of "facts on the ground" with a stricter application of existing Spanish and European legislation in connection with the "fight against smuggling and tax fraud, and environmental protection."

Asked about the UK government's reaction to Madrid's measures, a Foreign Office spokesman said that "for a long time the governments of Britain and Spain have had differing views on the sovereignty of Gibraltar's waters, going back several decades. We have full confidence in British sovereignty over all of Gibraltar and over the territorial waters of British Gibraltar. We will continue to use all necessary measures to safeguard British sovereignty."

Skirmishes between Gibraltar patrols and Spanish fishermen, often also involving Civil Guard officers sent out to protect the fishing boats, have been numerous in recent months. This year marks the 300th anniversary of the Utrecht Treaty by which Spain handed Gibraltar over to the British.

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