Tensions between Spain and the UK heightened in recent weeks following a dispute over territorial waters around Gibraltar. Sunday there are reports that Spanish fisherman are preparing to protest. An artificial reef made up of 70 concrete blocks placed in disputed waters off Gibraltar is at the heart of the dispute. Fisherman claim that the reef restricts their right to fish in the area. However the Gibraltar government maintains the reef will encourage sea-life. Spain's position is that the reef was not authorized and is in waters that do not belong to Gibraltar.
Police are out in force Sunday as fishermen gather at the site of the reef. A group of British Royal Navy warships and vessels from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, which include HMS Bulwark, HMS Illustrious, HMS Montrose and HMS Westminster and Helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious, are on a planned visit to Gibraltar. Both Spain and the UK agree that the visit was planned some time ago.
In the past few weeks Spain and the UK have been at loggerheads over Gibraltar. Spanish border guards have increased searches causing delays to people entering and leaving Gibraltar. The Spanish government claims the searches are essential to combat smuggling but the UK believe they are a tactical reprisal.
The Spaish government is even considering a 50 euro (£43) fee to cross its border into or out of Gibraltar. That would cripple the economy of this small British area.
Diplomatic calls between UK PM David Cameron and Spain's PM Mariano Rajoy have failed to difuse the situation. Cameron has now resorted to the "big guns" namely the EU. As BBC News reports:
"Cameron called EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to raise "serious concerns" that Spain's extra border checks were politically motivated and "disproportionate" - and broke EU rules on freedom of movement."
A week ago, as the crisis deepened, there were reports that Argentina and Spain were considering a pact. Argentina has long sought sovereignty of the Falkland Islands which means both countries have similar objectives, namely reclaiming their territories from Britain.
Currently however the majority of people occupying the Falklands and Gibraltar want to remain British.
The reason for the dispute is in danger of being pushed into the background as the two countries squabble. Gibraltar has been in British hands for 300 years and it will have been logistically crucial to the UK in the past. British military bases on Gib are closed these days but the UK however is determined that Gib will stay British if that is what its people want. The Spanish government is unlikely to agree.
As is so often the case when countries disagree both Spain and the UK hold different historical views of ownership of the Rock. The BBC details Spain's view of Gibraltar as:
From AD711 to 1462 Gibraltar was under Moorish rule, like most of Spain. Spain (initially Castile) controlled the territory from 1462 to 1704. Its political status between 1704 and 1713 was that of a territory occupied by allied Anglo-Dutch forces during the War of the Spanish Succession. Gibraltar's sovereign status between 1713 and 1880 was that of a territory taken by right of conquest, but legitimised in the form of a cession to the British (Article X, Treaty of Utrecht, 1713, Appendix I).
Great Britain views Gibraltar rather differently:
"Anglo-Dutch forces captured the fortress of Gibraltar in 1704, during the War of the Spanish Succession. It was formally ceded to the British in perpetuity under Article X of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. The Gibraltar territory was designated a Crown Colony in 1830 and was listed as such by the UN in 1946. In 1964, the Gibraltar Constitution was introduced and promulgated in 1969, stipulating that sovereign status would not be changed without the consent of Gibraltar's people."
Will the latest spat fizzle out or escalate? Time will tell.