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Legal plan fuels Gibraltar row
The Spanish government has imposed extra checks at the border to Gibraltar leading to lengthy queues
Diplomatic tensions between Britain and Spain deepened as Downing Street announced it was drawing up plans for legal action over the continued imposition of "politically motivated" checks at the Gibraltar border.
Relations with the Spanish government soured over the weekend after it failed to lift the extra controls, which have led to lengthy queues and involve the suggestion that a 50 euro (£43.30) fee could be imposed on every vehicle entering or leaving the British overseas territory through the fenced border with Spain.
The row will no doubt deepen after thousands of Royal Navy personnel set sail for a training deployment in the Mediterranean, which defence officials stressed was long-scheduled.
HMS Westminster, a type 23 frigate, will set sail on Tuesday and visit Gibraltar, a move which comes after the helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious left Portsmouth Naval Base in Hampshire to join the navy flagship HMS Bulwark, which sailed from Devonport for the Cougar '13 operation.
The legal action announced by No 10 would be an "unprecedented step", a spokesman said. He added: "Clearly the Prime Minister is disappointed by the failure of Spain to remove the additional border checks this weekend. We are now considering what legal action is open to us."
"This would be an unprecedented step so we want to consider it carefully before a making a decision to pursue."
Downing Street would not be drawn on what form any legal action would take, but confirmed that it would be done through Europe. The spokesman said they believed the action by the Spanish - who have long challenged British sovereignty of the Rock - was "politically motivated and totally disproportionate" and therefore illegal under EU law.
"If we go down this route, we will certainly press the EU to pursue the case as a matter of urgency," the spokesman said.
The director general for foreign affairs at Spain's foreign ministry, Ignacio Ibanez, said his country was "not worried" about the UK's consideration of legal action. "Legal advice is a normal part of the work," he told BBC Radio 4's PM. "We are not worried because we are convinced about what we are doing and we know that the right is on our side."
The European Commission plans to send a team of investigators to the Gibraltar border in the next couple of weeks to observe the new controls, following complaints from several MEPs and EU citizens about long waits there, Sky News said.