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Gibraltar 'quick resolution' sought
Downing Street has declined to rule out the use of retaliatory political action against Spain if its diplomatic row with Britain over Gibraltar is not resolved quickly.
Three Royal Navy ships, led by frigate HMS Westminster, have arrived at the British Overseas Territory the day after more than 40 commercial Spanish boats staged a protest over a controversial reef which sparked the disagreement and led to retaliatory delays at the border.
It has been reported that UK officials are examining the potential to disrupt Spain's lucrative tourist industry as well as blocking its policy initiatives at the EU.
Pressed repeatedly on the potential for such action, a Number 10 spokesman told reporters: "Our preference here is to resolve this via political means and through dialogue with the Spanish government. We clearly want to reach a quick resolution which is acceptable and brings an end to these totally disproportionate border checks." Asked if David Cameron was confident of securing a swift resolution, he said: "We will do what we need to do to bring this to a satisfactory conclusion."
Type 23 frigate HMS Westminster is now in Gibraltar along with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships Mounts Bay and Lyme Bay for a scheduled visit ahead of the Cougar '13 exercises in the Mediterranean.
Cougar '13 is a long-planned deployment involving four Royal Navy warships, the lead commando group from 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines and elements of naval air squadrons. The operation also includes the helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious and the navy's flagship HMS Bulwark.
A Spanish Guardia Civil patrol boat passed close to the military area of Gibraltar harbour not long after HMS Westminster arrived on Monday morning. The Spanish boat passed outside the harbour walls in Gibraltar Bay before speeding off when a police launch approached it.
Sunday's protest prompted calls for renewed efforts, involving the European Union, to solve the diplomatic dispute which has seen Madrid introduce additional checks at the border in protest, leaving workers and tourists facing hours in queues to get through.
The Number 10 spokesman said the Prime Minister wanted the EU to send monitors to the border "urgently". "We are still actively pursuing legal action. If we do pursue it, the first step would be for the European Commission to investigate the issue. That is why the Prime Minister spoke to President (Jose Manuel) Barroso."
The European Commission said that Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy had agreed to the despatch of observers to the border to assess the legality of the checks "as soon as possible". It came in a telephone conversation with Mr Barroso to discuss the dispute. "They agreed that a commission fact-finding mission should as soon as possible examine in loco the border control/movement of people and goods questions," the commission said in a statement following the call. "President Barroso expressed his hope that Spain and the UK will address these matters in a way that is in line with their common membership in the EU."