British Government Accuses Madrid of Violating its Sovereignty over Gibraltar

The British government accused Spain of violating its sovereignty over Gibraltar, saying Spanish state vessels had repeatedly and unlawfully entered its territorial waters without notifying it.

The row is the latest in a long line of diplomatic spats between Britain and Spain over the territory, which was ceded to Britain about 300 years ago but which Spanish authorities now want to reclaim, Reuters reports.

“These repeated incursions into British Gibraltar territorial waters are a clear violation of UK sovereignty by another EU country and we will be raising this as a matter of urgency with the Spanish authorities,” Hugo Swire, British Foreign Office Minister, said in a statement.

The Spanish government in turn said that in no way could the UK’s allegations of ”an illegal entry of Spanish security forces vessels into Gibraltarian waters” be categorized as an ”incident” because Spain recognizes the area in question as its territorial waters and thus committed no violation, El Pais writes.

”Our ships were carrying out routine surveillance against various illegal activities, such as contraband cigarette smuggling and illegal fishing – and, as far as Spain is concerned, these waters are Spanish,” Spain’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Manuel García-Margallo insisted, ”Spain has the obligation to ensure compliance with European Union laws, hence its control operations in the area.”

According to international law, the first three miles of sea off the coast of a given territory belongs to the nation which owns the land in question. This means the sea is British for three miles off Gibraltar’s shores. But Spain considers that only Gibraltar itself is British and the sea off is Spanish.

“We understand that the Spanish were in pursuit of vessels who may have been committing crimes. However it is completely unacceptable and unlawful under the international law of the sea to enter our waters without notifying us,” according to Mirror Hugo Swire declared.

Meanwhile, during all this dispute between London and Madrid, the government of Gibraltar declared that it was astonished and appalled by what happened on its territory.

 ”The Police in Gibraltar should have been asked to assist in catching the criminals once the chase seemed destined to go into British-controlled waters,” the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo said, according to Think Spain “I am sure I am speaking for the whole of Gibraltar when I say that we consider this has been a serious and unnecessary failure on the part of the Spanish which has had outrageous consequences in respect of the violation of our sovereignty.”

The densely populated area on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula remains a major point of contention in Britain’s diplomatic relations with Spain. Gibraltar’s population is estimated 30,000, rejected Spain’s proposals for sovereignty in referendums held in 1967 and 2002.