GIBRALTAR’S Chief Minister has declared the Eastern Beach landing by Spain’s customs officers ‘the most serious and dangerous incident for many years’ and ‘a gross violation of British sovereignty’.
Customs officers chasing smugglers landed on Eastern Beach at around five in the morning, with reports suggesting they fired up to eight shots to ward off smugglers who were throwing stones at them.
Chief Minister Fabian Picardo met with Governor David Steel to prepare further diplomatic actions to Spain about the incursion into Gibraltar waters and the shots fired while on the beach.
The UK and Gibraltar governments are now considering their next moves.
“The evidence surrounding this incident discloses a gross violation of British sovereignty and, potentially, the most serious and dangerous incident for many years,” Picardo said.
“Before reacting we must of course be sure of the facts but the events indicate that the actions by the Spanish officials are intolerable.”
He defied Spanish press reports by saying that ‘it would not appear’ that the customs officers asked Gibraltar law enforcement for help in the chase.
But Picardo said he had ‘nonetheless reached out yesterday to Spanish counterparts to inquire after the well-being of the Spanish officers in question’.
“As we continue to work with our law enforcement agencies in reaching final determinations as to the location of the discharge of weapons,” he added.
“We will also work in conjunction with the United Kingdom Government in order to determine the appropriate response in respect of these dangerous actions and gross violation of our British sovereignty by the presence of Spanish law enforcement officials in Gibraltar.”
The major diplomatic incident comes as the UK and Spain try to close a major EU treaty over Gibraltar at ongoing talks.
Ironically, an agreement could signal the end of tobacco smuggling as it would probably remove Gibraltar’s duty-free status.