Gibraltar: Talks on sovereignty discounted by UK and Spain

Two Spanish tourists walk past a broken traffic signal lying on the ground as they try to find the correct direction to the Spanish border to enter the British territory of Gibraltar
Image caption Spain disputes UK sovereignty over Gibraltar, a limestone outcrop near the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula

The UK and Spanish foreign ministers have said there is no prospect of talks soon on the sovereignty of Gibraltar.

Foreign Secretary William Hague told the Commons the UK government would "never negotiate over sovereignty" over the Gibraltarians' heads.

He said Gibraltar wanted to remain British, but added that the UK still wanted to hold talks to settle the latest border dispute with Spain.

His Spanish counterpart said "now is not the time" to discuss sovereignty.

Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, addressing the Spanish MPs, said that "friendship" should prevail between Spain and the UK.

'Never give an inch'‏

Speaking in the Commons earlier, Mr Hague said: "Gibraltar is British and wants to stay British and for us that is the end of the matter and we will never negotiate over sovereignty over the people of Gibraltar's heads as the last Labour government did."

He was responding to a question from Conservative MP Jake Berry, who had asked him to affirm that he would "never give an inch" on sovereignty. The territory has been ruled by Britain since 1713 but Spain disputes UK sovereignty.

Image caption Mr Garcia-Margallo was addressing Spanish MPs

Separately, Spanish Foreign Minister Mr Garcia-Margallo said that "now is not the time to talk about sovereignty" a discussion that, come the appropriate time, would require "confidential conversations", not "with lights and stenographers".

He stressed that "no decision" would be taken on sovereignty "unless there is prior discussion and agreement" with the "Hague Tribunal", thought to refer to the International Court of Justice, and "the committee on maritime rights".

He called for friendship between Spain and the UK, adding: "A friendship that will only be possible if we call for dialogue, but defending firmly and clearly our interests. The UK does that, and I hope Spain will do so too."

He said that sovereignty underlies the discussions and "it will have to be addressed" - but he stressed that "probably this is not the moment for that".

Gibraltar "is, has been and will be a national priority" he said.

'Uphold law'

Prime Minister David Cameron met Gibraltar's Chief Minister Fabian Picardo at Downing Street last week and insisted the UK would always stand up for the British territory and the interests of its people.

It comes after Spanish authorities increased checks at the Gibraltar border, leading to lengthy delays.

Gibraltar said the increased checks came after it dropped 74 concrete blocks into the sea next to its territory to create an artificial reef. Mr Cameron called Spain's actions "politically motivated".

The territory has claimed the reef will encourage sea life to flourish, but the Spanish said the blocks would disrupt waters used by its fishing boats.

Labour MP Sir Gerald Kaufman called for "reprisals" if tough border checks continued.

He said Mr Hague should make it clear to Spain that "harassment at the border and intrusion into British sovereign waters will not be tolerated and if need be there will be reprisals".

Mr Hague told MPs that the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, had confirmed that border control monitors would be sent to Gibraltar "soon" in a phone call to Mr Cameron.

"I think it's very good that they will come and look at the facts and we look to them to help us uphold the law," he said.

Sir Graham Watson, a Lib Dem MEP for south-west England and Gibraltar, meanwhile, wrote on Twitter that Mr Barroso had told him monitors would be sent this month.

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