LONDON: Prime Minister David Cameron pledged Britain would “always stand up for Gibraltar” as he met the British territory’s chief minister yesterday for talks on its border spat with Spain.
Cameron welcomed Fabian Picardo for talks at his Downing Street office in London, as Spain’s deputy prime minister in Madrid stressed the need for dialogue on cross-border issues.
“Britain will always stand up for Gibraltar. We will always stand up for the interests of the people who live in Gibraltar,” Cameron told Picardo.
“It is something that matters to us very deeply.”
The chief minister thanked him, saying: “The people of Gibraltar know they have a friend in David Cameron and a friend in (Foreign Secretary) William Hague.
“That Gibraltar continues to be on your mind means a lot to us.”
A dispute has broken out between London and Madrid in recent weeks over the British outpost, after Spain introduced stringent border checks which have led to waits of several hours for motorists trying to enter the tiny territory.
Gibraltar has accused Madrid of imposing the checks in retaliation for its decision to drop concrete blocks into the sea in July to create an artificial reef to boost fish stocks — blocking Spanish fishing boats from entering the area.
A Downing Street spokeswoman said Cameron “repeated his commitment to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Gibraltar.
“They discussed the unacceptable delays at the Spanish-Gibraltar border and agreed that these are damaging to the people and economies of Gibraltar and Spain.
“They agreed that efforts should remain concentrated on finding a diplomatic solution, in line with the foreign secretary’s proposals last year for ad hoc dialogue.”
About 10,000 Spaniards cross the frontier each day to work in the self-governing British overseas territory, which measures just 6.8sqkm and is home to about 30,000 people.
Gibraltar is strategically placed at the mouth of the Mediterranean on Spain’s southern tip.
Spain ceded it to Britain in perpetuity in 1713 but has long argued that it should be returned to Spanish sovereignty. London says it will not do so against the wishes of Gibraltarians, who are staunchly pro-British.
Gibraltar governs its own affairs, except foreign affairs and defence.
In Madrid, Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said the country still had general good relations with Britain.
“Spain and the United Kingdom are partners and allies, and we want to maintain that relation and preserve our dialogue on all matters that affect us,” she told a news conference.