Spain and Italy have locked horns over immigration. Spain accused Italy of implementing immigration policy that harms other European Union member states. In response, Italy accused Spain of “encouraging out-of-control immigration”.

It all started when Spain’s foreign minister, Josep Borrell, was interviewed by the German daily Handelsblatt. “Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini is doing politics at the expense of not just Spain, but at the expense of all of Europe,” Borrell told the newspaper.

The Spanish minister was referring to Italy’s refusal to grant port access to rescue ships which save migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean. This closure has re-activated the western Mediterranean route into Europe, with Spain as the main access point.

Salvini fired back. “We will not respond to insults from a government and a minister who favour out-of-control immigration,” he said in statements to the Italian television station RAI. “Our concern is for the security, culture and identity of the European people.”

As reported by Spanish newspaper El País, the divergence of immigration policies among member states was underscored in mid-June, when Italy and Malta denied access to a rescue ship named Aquarius, operated by the French aid groups Doctors Without Borders and SOS Méditérranée. The vessel, which was carrying 630 migrants aboard, finally pulled into the port of Valencia. Spain has since taken in more rescue ships, drawing praise and criticism alike for the Socialist administration of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.