ALTHOUGH Gibraltar was not at the top of the agenda at yesterday's talks between Spain's new Foreign Minister, Miguel Moratinos, and Jack Straw, it is a subject that will just not go away and is likely to remain as an irritant in Anglo-Spanish relations especially since the balm of the Aznar/Blair relationship cannot any longer be applied. This was made clear by Mr Straw at the press conference following his meeting with Sr Moratinos when he described as “unacceptable” the recent Spanish decision to ban from all Spanish ports any cruise liner that has berthed at Gibraltar. (Mr Straw is having to use “unacceptable” almost every day at the moment and its significance is being devalued as a result.)
Eight cruise ships have now been affected by the ban which came into force three weeks ago with very little notice. Earlier this week the Dutch liner Prinsendam with 700 passengers was refused entry to Tarragona because it had called at Gibraltar - thus broadening the problem to include ships from EU countries other than Britain. This development apparently follows from the Spanish government's interpretation of a 1986 EU directive that limits the use by non-EU vessels of EU ports; but since the Prinsendam is registered in the Netherlands it is not clear why it should be subject to any restriction. The truth is, of course, that the Gibraltar issue is plagued by point scoring on both sides and it could well be that the Spanish authorities are hitting back at Britain's decision to include Gibraltar in a constituency in south-west England for the European Parliament elections.

As has often been said in this space, the EU should become part of the solution to Gibraltar's future, not allowed to become part of the problem.


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