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Three British warships have left ports on the English south coast heading for the Mediterranean: a “routine”, long-planned deployment say both the UK and Spain, but the image is perhaps unfortunate given the latest row over the disputed territory of Gibraltar.
London is now threatening legal action through the European Union over prolonged Spanish border controls. A formal complaint to the European Commission is possible, ahead of potential legal action before the European Court of Justice.
Madrid is said to be considering taking up separate disputes concerning Gibraltar at the United Nations Security Council, where it is thought it might seek the support of Argentina.
One of the ships will stop in Gibraltar, a British overseas territory, while another is expected to visit a Spanish port.
The weekend again saw long delays for motorists as the Spanish carried out extensive border controls.
Gibraltar is not in the Schengen zone but Britain argues the checks are excessive.
They were Spain’s response to Gibraltar’s artificial reef which the Spanish argue would damage fishing.
“They’re searching cars more thoroughly. It wasn’t like this before, it’s a bit harder now, but that’s their business,” said a Spanish male driver.
“This is really hard, and I think it’s disrespectful to workers. There are 10,000 of us crossing every day with a work contract, plus another 15,000 who cross to go home or just to the market. So there are 25,000 people affected by this,” added a Spanish woman.
Britain says it would be “unprecedented” to take such a legal move against an EU ally.
Spain insists the checks are legal and proportionate, and needed to prevent money laundering and smuggling.
Both countries’ prime ministers spoke to each other last week but neither backed down.