UK and Spain agree to talks on Gibraltar

BRITAIN AND Spain agreed yesterday to hold emergency talks on the deepening crisis in Gibraltar after Madrid claimed that the territory was a "ridiculous" royal colony.

Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, will meet his Spanish counterpart, Abel Matutes, next Sunday to head off what is developing into the biggest diplomatic storm between the two countries in decades.

The meeting follows days of rising tension, and even calls from some MPs for British gunboats to be sent, after Spain decided to increase border restrictions in a dispute over Gibraltar's fishing rights.

The prospect of a temporary truce emerged after Madrid backed away from earlier threats to refuse to recognise Gibraltar driving licences or to block flights to the rock that pass over Spanish air space.

The Foreign Office revealed yesterday that Mr Matutes had backed away from the threatened bans during an hour-long phone call with Mr Cook on Thursday evening.

Mr Cook said that the best way forward must be first to "calm the situation" and then to discuss the underlying issues rationally. "I made it clear in my conversation with the Spanish Foreign Minister that the threats made earlier this week are unacceptable," he said.

"Britain and Spain have a very good relationship but it has to be based on a clear understanding that the interests of the people of Gibraltar and the consent of the people of Gibraltar are paramount."

Mr Cook and Mr Matutes will hold bilateral talks in Brussels on 21 February before a general meeting of European Union foreign ministers. The Foreign Office said Mr Cook had made clear the UK's concern that the Spanish authorities had tightened border controls around the territory, causing long delays for travellers.

The move to calm the situation emerged after the Spanish Ambassador to Britain, Alberto Aza, said the only solution to the crisis was to end Gibraltar's status as a colony.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "The dispute is ridiculous - as ridiculous as the status of Gibraltar being a royal colony in the 20th or 21st century in Europe. The only thing to be blamed for the difficulties there is the status Gibraltar is now enjoying.

"The Gibraltarians have the best of both ways. They have a special status on taxation, Customs... and they want to have freedom of movement, which is impossible."

The Foreign Office minister Joyce Quin has already warned that the Government would raise with the European Commission President, Jacques Santer, the threats by Madrid.

In Gibraltar yesterday, the atmosphere among the locals was one of resigned indignation as they were held up in three-hour border queues by the Spanish authorities.

"It's the old Francoist habits showing through," said Abraham Levy, a Gibraltarian who was stuck with his wife, Mary, in a queue four lanes wide, waiting to cross into Spain.

Mr Levy, who runs a real estate business on the Rock, has a Gibraltar- registered car and a Gibraltar driving licence, or rather, he said, "a European Union passport issued in Gibraltar". He hoped this would satisfy Spanish border guards who were reportedly turning away Gibraltar licence- holders or, according to one rumour, extracting a 20,000 peseta (pounds 85) fine. "It's such a pity because Spain is lovely, we're Latins like they are, but they're rubbing us up the wrong way," he said.

When asked if such links, not to mention geography, make it sensible for Gibraltar to join Spain eventually, he said: "Ask in La Linea if they want to be Gibraltarian. Ask in Barcelona if they want to be French. We're entitled to choose what we want to be. Many of us favour dialogue, but Madrid won't convince us this way."

Why, knowing yesterday's queue would be a nightmare, were they making the crossing?

Mrs Levy said: "We've got a house in Estepona along the costa where my daughter lives, and she's away and there are animals to care for.

"The other week the pond had dried up and all the fish had died. I'd like to send those dead fish to Abel Matutes."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
Fans take a selfie with Ed Miliband in Kempston, near Bedford, on Tuesday
election 2015
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Accountant - London - £48,000 - 12 month FTC

£40000 - £48000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: International Acc...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Leeds

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Leeds This i...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Bristol

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power