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  1. Newstatesman Gibraltar
1 December 2014

Julie Girling: “I have robustly defended the interests of Gibraltar in Europe”

Julie Girling, MEP for South West England and Gibraltar, says she is working hard to address Spanish incursions into territorial waters and delays at the border, and keeps in touch with locals via Twitter

By Julie Girling

Gibraltar is a vibrant and prosperous place. Conservative MEPs and the UK government remain strongly committed to ensuring the best deal for Gibraltar and its people in the European Parliament.

My region, South West England and Gibraltar, is a large one with a combined population of some 5.5 million people with varying interests and concerns. Constituents in Gibraltar raise two main issues: the incursions by Spain into Gibraltarian waters and the traffic queues on the border between Gibraltar and mainland Spain.

On 5 October 2014, there was a serious incursion into British Gibraltar Territorial Waters by a Spanish state research vessel. Freedom of navigation in international waters is a vital principle of international law and we must continue to uphold the sovereignty of British Gibraltar territorial waters through the Royal Navy. Unlawful incursions into these waters are completely unjustifiable. The behaviour of the Spanish state vessels is often dangerous, something that I have raised in the European Parliament and the UK government has raised with Spain on a number of occasions.

In an effort to resolve the concerns around incursions, earlier this year the Foreign Office summoned the Spanish ambassador to raise their concerns. According to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the waters around Gibraltar are indisputably British territorial waters, under UK sovereignty, in which only the UK has the right to exercise jurisdiction. Spain is fully aware of the legal position, yet over the past two years has increased unlawful incursions by state vessels from around five per month to around 40 per month. These provocations by the Spanish are unacceptable and I have robustly defended the interests of Gibraltar in the European parliament.

The second issue facing Gibraltar’s residents is the difficulty and delays at the border crossing with Spain. I visited Gibraltar in August 2013 to see the problems for myself and it is of great frustration to me that the issues on the border continue today. I have been working directly with colleagues in the Foreign Office regarding this matter, and many Gibraltarians keep me up-to-date with the queues via my Twitter @juliegirling. In 2013 and 2014 the traffic queues between Spain and Gibraltar became so acute the UK government was forced to intervene. Despite the European Commission also raising this with the Spanish authorities, the problem has not been solved. The Minister for Europe David Lidington visited Gibraltar this July to review the situation, and called for upgrades to the border infrastructure and an end to this politically motivated problem. I have been assured that the UK government will maintain diplomatic pressure until this very frustrating situation is resolved.

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Looking to the future, I was pleased to learn the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon visited Gibraltar in October and has signed an agreement to ensure the cost of resurfacing work at Gibraltar Airport is shared equally by the UK and Gibraltar. The runway resurfacing agreement will ensure the future operation of the airport and maintain Gibraltar as a base for defence, as well as helping to ensure Gibraltar’s ongoing economic development.

I will continue to support my constituents in Gibraltar in the European Parliament and work with colleagues in London to ensure the UK government continues to take whatever action necessary to uphold the interests of Gibraltar, its people, its security and economy. Any issues will be resolved by political means through our relationship as EU partners, not through disproportionate measures.

Julie Girling is a Conservative MEP representing South West England and Gibraltar