THE British Prime Minister has been forced to step into the most heated dispute between Gibraltar and Spain in over a decade.
David Cameron insists threats to impose a €50 border tax, a no-fly zone and a tax investigation into thousands of Gibraltarians with property in Spain was of ‘serious concern’.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has also stepped into the row that has led to Gibraltar leader Fabian Picardo comparing Spain to north Korea.
In a hard-hitting statement the First Minister accused Madrid of ‘sabre-rattling’ and creating a climate akin to the days of dictator Franco.
He said: “The things that (foreign secretary) Garcia Margallo has said are more reminiscent of the type of statements you hear from North Korea than from an EU partner.
“What we have seen this weekend is sabre-rattling of a sort we have not seen for some time. It is the politics of madness.”
The row comes after weeks of mounting tensions and, in particular, Gibraltar’s decision to create an artificial reef just off the Rock.
The installation of a series of concrete blocks aimed to conserve fish stocks, but prompted accusations from Spain that it would stop fishermen being able to earn a living.
In an unprecedented move, special teams of Spanish customs officials were then deployed on the border, stopping and searching all traffic and pedestrians leaving Gibraltar for contraband.
This has led to huge queues over the last fortnight as people waited up to six hours to leave the Rock in the sweltering summer sun.
In one shocking incident a Gibraltarian cyclist Wayne McKay was dragged off his bike and handcuffed for attempting to pass customs officers.
The border delays were accompanied by strong words from Foreign Minister Garcia-Margallo who declared that ‘The party was over’ for Gibraltar.
In a raft of draconian measures he said he was proposing a €50 fee for crossing the border, as well as flights into the Rock being denied access to Spanish airspace
The provocation was seen by many observers as a move by leader Mariano Rajoy to divert attention away from his own domestic difficulties, including the ongoing economic crisis and his personal involvement in the Barcenas ‘black money’ scandal.
Foreign Secretary William Hague has said the UK stands ‘shoulder to shoulder with the people of Gibraltar at this time of increasing Spanish pressure.’
The UK’s UKIP party meanwhile have asked for a frigate to be dispatched to Gibraltar to show the UK’s support.