Gibraltar accuses Spain of ‘gross sovereignty breach’ over customs incident

Gibraltar on Friday accused Spain of a "gross violation of British sovereignty" after an incident on one of its beaches involving Spanish customs agents who were attacked by smugglers, during which shots were fired.

Gibraltar accuses Spain of 'gross sovereignty breach' over customs incident
This file photo taken in 2017 shows Gibraltar Rock from La Linea de la Concepcion near the southern Spanish city of Cadiz. Photo by Jorge Guerrero / AFP

“The evidence surrounding this incident discloses a gross violation of British sovereignty and, potentially, the most serious and dangerous incident for many years,” said Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo in a statement.

The incident happened early on Thursday when a small Spanish customs vessel lost power while pursuing suspected tobacco smugglers off Gibraltar, a source from Spain’s tax agency which is in charge of customs told AFP.

After choppy seas pushed their vessel to the shore, the two officers on board were surrounded by a group of people and pelted with rocks, some of them weighing over three kilos (6.5 pounds), the source added.

The officers fired “shots into the water to try to drive away” the people throwing rocks, a tax office source told AFP, speaking on condition he was not identified.

One customs officer suffered a broken nose, the other fractured bones in his face, he added.

Videos circulating on social media appear to show several shots being fired during the incident, although it was not clear who fired them.

‘Reckless and dangerous’

“Should it be confirmed that Spanish officials discharged their weapons in Gibraltar, such action would be a very serious breach of the law,” the Gibraltar government statement said.

It called the incident “reckless and dangerous, especially in an area of dense civilian population, given the proximity of a residential estate in the area”.

The governments of Gibraltar and the United Kingdom consider that the events “will require careful consideration as to the nature and level of diplomatic response,” it added.

Gibraltar police and army officers used metal detectors on Friday to search for bullet casings on the beach, images broadcast on Gibraltar TV showed.

Picardo said Spanish law agencies know they can ask Gibraltar law enforcement to continue a chase into Gibraltar but “it would appear that they did not do so in this case.”

Spain’s foreign ministry “categorically rejected” the terms of the Gibraltar government statement as well as the “claims of alleged British sovereignty over the territory and waters of Gibraltar” which it contained.

Spain’s Budget Minister Maria Jesus Montero said the customs agency would “investigate what happened and will demand the necessary explanations”.

Post-Brexit talks

The incident comes as Madrid and London are locked in talks over Gibraltar’s post-Brexit relationship with the European Union.

The European Commission and Spain sent Britain, in late 2022 a proposal that would keep freedom of movement along the border of the tiny British enclave at Spain’s southern tip.

About 15,000 people, the majority of them Spaniards, commute daily from Spain to jobs in Gibraltar, which has a population of about 34,000.

Gibraltar has long been a source of British-Spanish tensions. Although Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in 1713, Madrid has long wanted it back, a thorny dispute that has for decades involved pressure on the

Tensions peaked in 1969 when the regime of dictator Francisco Franco closed the border, which did not fully reopen until 1985.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Spain’s PM Sánchez reveals names of new ministers

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has announced two new appointments to the Spanish government for the positions of Health Minister and Industry and Tourism Minister.

Spain's PM Sánchez reveals names of new ministers

Sánchez revealed that José Manuel Miñones will take over as Health Minister from Carolina Darias, who has announced her candidacy for the mayor of Madrid.

Meanwhile, Héctor Gómez will also replace Reyes Maroto, who is in the running to become mayor of Las Palmas, as the Minister for Industry and Tourism.

This is part of the reshuffle of the Spanish government prior to the regional and municipal elections on May 28th.

The announcement was given in an institutional statement from La Moncloa on Monday March 27th. 

Gómez, deputy for Santa Cruz de Tenerife, is currently president of the Constitutional Commission of the Congress of Deputies. He will be the substitute for Maroto as the head of the Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Commerce. Miñones, the government delegate in Galicia, will be the new Minister of Health.

Sánchez, who has already communicated these changes to King Felipe VI, has stuck to his commitment to only to replace the two outgoing ministers. Gómez and Miñones will be sworn into their new posts this Tuesday, March 28th and will join the Spanish cabinet that same day.

In his statement, Sánchez praised the work of the outgoing ministers Darias and Maroto in “difficult” times due to the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

He also assured that their replacements “know the industries they work in very well and will be able to carry out their tasks”, which “their experience and qualities guarantee”. “They are two excellent public servants with an impeccable track record and an unwavering commitment to defending the general interest,” Sánchez added.

Gómez was already part of Maroto’s team in the Ministry and has been a spokesman for the PSOE in Congress, while Miñones has a degree in pharmacy and a prize awarded by the University of Santiago de Compostela for several published medical investigations.

Sánchez kept his promise to announce the new replacements before April 4th, before starting an intense schedule of international trips, including to China.

READ ALSO: Spanish PM to visit China next week

The PM also praised Maroto’s work since she first entered his government in 2018 because “her drive” has been “key” to reindustrialise the economy, boost trade and “modernise one of the main sectors that suffered so much from the pandemic”, which was tourism.

He also stressed that the current war in Ukraine has left “consequences” that have been “an unprecedented challenge” and Maroto “has always worked to find adequate solutions” to these problems.

With regards to Darias, who took over from Salvador Illa in January 2021 after serving as Minister of Territorial Policy and Public Function, Sánchez stressed that her work has been “fundamental to definitively leaving the pandemic behind”. “Her name will always be linked to the success of the vaccination campaign” for which Spain has been a “reference”, he added.

Among some of her successes have been the hiring of 90,000 health professionals since the PM started governing.

“I will always keep in my memory the presentation of the first mental health plan”, he continued, and mentioned the launch of the hope telephone number, 024, which has already answered “more than 80,000 calls” and has alerted authorities to “more than 2,000 people at risk of suicide”.

“The data is eloquent and speaks for itself when it comes to assessing the management of both ministers,” he concluded.