Over the years, I have been surprised to hear many people state that they thought Gibraltar was in Spain. I have even been told, quite earnestly, on a couple of occasions that Gib was in Africa. Well, after watching the news this weekend, those geography challenged folk will have a better understanding not only of Gibraltar’s location, but of its politics and people.
For those not in the know, Gib is a British Overseas Territory. It has its own parliament and ministers and runs its own independent economy. However, in matters concerning foreign policy and defence, it looks to the UK. This is a greatly simplified description of the close relationship the Rock has with Britain, but it’s a good start for those wondering what all the fuss is about.
Spain has long wished to exert sovereignty over Gibraltar – seeing it as historically theirs and a modern-day affront to their national identity. Many Spaniards are not so much interested in planting their flag on the Rock as they are stopping Gib’s base as a tax haven. A situation they view as being detrimental to Spain. Gib has also been a go to tub-thumping subject to deflect unpleasant political situations in Madrid and Spain as a whole.
Gibraltarians see things very differently. They have a long and loyal relationship with the UK, as well as a thriving and prosperous economy. The last referendum on this issue resulted in 96% of Gibraltarians voting to remain with the UK. The British Government’s stance is that sovereignty of Gibraltar will not change without the support and consent of the people of Gibraltar. The people of the Rock also voted in huge numbers to remain in Europe.
Now the EU has got behind Spain’s requests for sovereignty over Gib and the first major hitch – one of very many I predict – to the UK’s Brexit negotiations has thrown the whole problem into sharp relief. It is going to be difficult. Many Gibraltarians remember the harsh years of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s when Franco brought much hardship to the Rock by closing its borders to Gib. Spain also caused much hardship to its own citizens by this action, something Franco was seemingly happy to tolerate.
Their are voices that suggest a joint sovereignty between the UK and Spain would be best. It is a view that finds meagre support in Gibraltar. To my mind, the situation has to be decided by Gibraltarians themselves. They must not be used as a pawn in an exercise of tit for tat negotiations between the EU, Spain and the UK. Sabre-rattling by some in the UK and others in Spain will not aid this. The Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo QC, spoke eloquently and passionately this weekend. He and his fellow Gibraltarians must be listened to. It is their right.