Spain eases up on Gibraltar traffic checks

Spain has eased intensive checks on the Gibraltar border that caused delays to car traffic but Britain will be "closely monitoring" the situation, Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman said on Monday.

Spain eases up on Gibraltar traffic checks
"Clearly we were concerned over the weekend by events on the border," a spokesman for UK Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters. File photo: Andrew Winning/Pool/AFP

London has raised concerns with Madrid after Gibraltar's government said vehicles leaving the British-held territory on Spain's southern tip had been made since Friday to wait nearly six hours to get through new security inspections.

"Clearly we were concerned over the weekend by events on the border," the prime minister's spokesman told reporters.

"That is why the foreign secretary called his Spanish counterpart and my understanding is that the border crossings have now returned to normal. But clearly we will be monitoring the situation in coming days."

Check out The Local's list of ten things you didn't know about Gibraltar.

Britain's "priority" is to ensure "people's basic right to freedom of movement" at the border, the spokesman said.

The spokesman's comments came a day after Foreign Secretary William Hague telephoned his Spanish counterpart to express "serious concerns" and the Foreign Office formally protested to the Spanish ambassador in London.

Spain last week lodged a complaint with Britain over the building of an artificial reef in Gibraltar's waters, which Gibraltar said was necessary to stop incursions by Spanish fishing boats.

Gibraltar's chief minister Fabian Picardo said Spain had acted like a "bully" by inflicting the delays on travellers.

"It's quite inhumane in particular when you think about the fact that there are pregnant women, elderly people and some very young children in those vehicles," he told the BBC.

"Spain really has behaved quite unashamedly like a bully this weekend."

The government of Gibraltar said in a statement that an ambulance had been deployed to treat people with medical conditions who were stuck in the queue and that a Spanish man was taken to hospital on Friday with chest pains.

Britain has held Gibraltar since 1713 but Spain wants it returned and refuses to recognise British sovereignty over the waters off the land known as "the Rock".

Tiny Gibraltar, just 6.8 square kilometres (2.6 square miles) and home to about 30,000 people, overlooks the only entrance to the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean.

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Gibraltar holds referendum on its draconian abortion laws

Gibraltar heads to the polls on Thursday to vote on plans to ease abortion laws which currently carry possible life sentences for offenders, in a referendum delayed for over a year by the coronavirus pandemic.

Gibraltar holds referendum on its draconian abortion laws
A woman wears a t-shirt reading " Gibraltar for Yes!" outside a polling station in Gibraltar, on June 24, 2021. Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP

The issue has exposed sharply opposing views within this tiny, normally closely-knit British enclave at the southernmost tip of Spain, which is home to some 32,000 people.

The referendum was initially slated for March 19 2020 but a week ahead of the vote it was postponed as virus cases began spiralling at the start of the pandemic.Except in cases where it would save the mother’s life, abortion is currently banned in Gibraltar on pain of life imprisonment, although such a penalty has not been applied in modern times.

The government is proposing changes to the law to allow abortion where a woman’s mental or physical health is at risk — such as in cases of rape or incest — or when foetuses have fatal physical defects.

Although the changes have already been approved by Gibraltar’s parliament, the referendum will decide whether or not that amended law be brought into force.

Under the changes, a woman would be able to undergo an abortion up to 12 weeks into her pregnancy if her mental or physical health is deemed at risk, or beyond if such damage would be grave and permanent.

There would be no time limit on cases involving fatal foetal anomaly.

Until now, women wanting to have an abortion have had to travel to Spain or to Britain to undergo the procedure.

Chief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo and his wife Justine Olivero leave a polling station after casting their ballots. Photo: JORGE GUERRERO/AFP

– ‘In Gibraltar’s best interests’ –

Ahead of the vote, both sides have been campaigning hard, with Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and two other party leaders releasing a video urging people to vote “Yes” to the proposed amendment to the crimes act that will regulate abortions in Gibraltar.

“My personal, professional & political opinion on the abortion referendum: it is in #Gibraltar’s best interests to #VoteYes on Thursday 24th June,” Picardo tweeted.

“No” campaigners have also been rallying support with hundreds of people dressed in pink and purple joining a pro-life “Save Babies, vote no” march through the city centre last week, chanting “We vote no!”

On the ballot, voters will be asked: “Should the Crimes (Amendment) Act 2019, that defines the circumstances which would allow abortion in Gibraltar, come into force?”

If the changes are approved, the law is expected to take effect fairly quickly although officials have not yet laid out a timeline.

The proposed changes came after Britain’s Supreme Court ruled in June 2018 that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws, which at the time were almost identical to Gibraltar’s, were incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

“It is therefore clear that if the equivalent law on abortion in Northern Ireland was in breach of the Convention, our identical, archaic law is too,” wrote Picardo in an op-ed in Wednesday’s Gibraltar Chronicle.

“It is our duty to vote to stop this ongoing breach.”

Picardo has said he believed the changes were long overdue and that the plans would be approved “by a very large majority”.