Commotion over Gibraltar

Spain should not let itself get dragged in by provocations from British ultra-nationalists

A few ultra-nationalists have completely lost their cool, and with it, the chance to avoid making fools of themselves. A former aide-de-camp to Margaret Thatcher, Michael Howard, has proposed – with apparent solemnity – military action to preserve British sovereignty over the Rock, along the lines of the 1982 conflict in the Falkland Islands. An ageing rear-admiral has added that “we have an army that is significantly more powerful and we could cripple Spain in the medium term.” And a former conservative minister has suggested playing up to Catalan secessionists as a tool of blackmail against Spain.

Even Prime Minister Theresa May has treated all the saber-rattling and conspiracy theory-oriented commotion as a joke, so no Spaniard should take the bravado seriously. The Mariano Rajoy administration has prudently avoided all temptation of turning this episode into a useless confrontation over sovereignty of the Rock. All Spaniards should put aside that aspect of the dispute (without renouncing any rights) and prioritize solutions to the specific conflicts created by Gibraltar.

For the populations of Gibraltar and neighboring Andalusia, it is essential to reach cross-border cooperation that will improve travel and working conditions; bolster economic development; go after all kinds of organized crime, from tobacco smuggling to the drug trade; and crack down on tax evasion.

If the most is made of Europe’s decisive support for Spain, it will be possible to prove that seeking mutual benefits for the affected communities is the best way to improve their well-being and to be more credible. And thus to address, when the time comes, all the pending issues regarding the definitive status of the colony. A de facto co-management of mutually relevant problems is the best way to sew running stitches around a situation of shared sovereignty without even mentioning it.

In the meantime, Brexiteers’ agitation over Gibraltar evidences their insecurity regarding the deepest feelings of Gibraltarians, who lined up almost 100% with their rivals in the Brexit vote: those who support remaining in the EU. What’s now in play is the very unity of the United Kingdom.

And it’s a sign that Brexit, even if it is to end in a soft solution, will entail a hard negotiation. To the degree that London first sequestered the interests of migrant residents in Europe without consolidating their rights before the negotiation, as the Lords proposed, this forces the EU27 to show equal hardness. Among other matters, on the very sentimental one of Gibraltar. It is not Brussels’ responsibility. It is London’s fault.

English version by Susana Urra.