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Gibraltar border tensions may remain until change of Spanish Government, expert warns

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Gibraltar border tensions may remain until change of Spanish Government, expert warns

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Published by University of Leicester Press Office for University of Leicester in Education and also in Central Government

Dr Chris Grocott in Gibraltar Dr Chris Grocott in Gibraltar

Spain’s controversial controls at Gibraltar’s frontier could remain in place until there is a change of Spanish Government, according to an expert on the region.

Dr Chris Grocott, a lecturer in Management and Economic History at the University of Leicester’s School of Management who has conducted extensive research on Gibraltar, said that what has become one of the longest running stalemates between Spain and the UK over the region since Gibraltar’s frontier was re-opened in 1985 is set to continue.

Last summer, Spain introduced rigorous border checks following a dispute over an artificial reef being created off the Gibraltar coast.

The UK appealed to the EU to challenge the legality of the border controls – but the EU found that there was no legal problem with Spain’s actions.

While many, including Dr Grocott, believed the situation would quickly blow over as such harassments have done in the past, the border checks have remained in place until this day.

There have been reports of traffic delays of up to eight hours during the summer, and fears that the controls could harm Gibraltar’s tourism – a major part of its economy.

Dr Grocott said a combination of factors have meant the Spanish Government feels compelled to keep the border checks in place. As the EU has not told Spain to desist, there is no reason why the government will back down.

He said: “It doesn’t look like there is going to be any immediate change to this situation. It’s very unusual for frontier issues to last this long. We thought that this would all blow over, but it’s not clear how that is going to happen this time.

“Clearly in the very long term future, if a different government is elected in Spain that might allow for a change of policy. But until then, we are looking at an extended period of this stalemate.”

Dr Grocott said that the Spanish Government had originally put the border controls in place because it acted as a distraction from Spain’s economic problems. But now the situation is serving several other purposes.

“Spain has a right wing government which is under pressure from nationalistic elements in the country. There is currently a large debate going on about regionalism in the country – and in particular where the Basque Country and Catalonia should fit within the Spanish state.

“Many people in these regions have called for them to be independent, which Spain’s political right opposes bitterly. Gibraltar comes into that debate, even though it is not a region of Spain.  The same emotions are at work.”

Dr Grocott said the Spanish Government is unlikely to back down unless it can claim that the UK has given some ground over its hold in the region.

“Some argue that the UK Government should simply ‘hand Gibraltar back’, and such anti-imperialist sentiment is somewhat understandable. But we haven’t got a situation where this is just Britain and Spain. It is Spain, Britain and Gibraltar. We have played a significant role in creating this third group – the Gibraltarians - and have a responsibility towards them,” he said.

Channel 5’s Gibraltar: Britain In The Sun returned for a second series on January 7. Dr Grocott was critical of the first series, and said it presented a false, outmoded image of Gibraltar while ignoring Gibraltarians.

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