European Gibraltar

Spain is taking a firm approach to talks about the future of the British Overseas Territory after Brexit

Gibraltar’s international airport on the border with Spain.
Gibraltar’s international airport on the border with Spain.JON NAZCA / REUTERS

Spain and the United Kingdom will this month begin an important round of talks about the future of Gibraltar after Britain’s impending exit from the European Union, known as Brexit, specifically on the anticipated agreement that will regulate future relations between Europeans and Britons after the transition period.

Faced with the possible outcomes, our country must be prepared for the best (a full-reaching agreement), the worst (a disagreement that leads to a hard Brexit) and of course, something in between. And also for the most complex: any of these options, but adding a disagreement between the British government and the executive of Gibraltar. Spain must also be aware that it has good, although difficult, bargaining chips to negotiate with.

London would be making a mistake if it tries to debate concrete aspects of the Spanish-Gibraltar relationship and forgets that it is a part of a whole, and that Spain forms part of this whole that is unequivocally loyal to the European Union, an organization that the United Kingdom is leaving.

For the sake of principles and interests, it is better to negotiate issues such as fishing and the export of fruit and vegetables, which involve both Spanish sectors of the economy and from other EU partners, within the ranks of Europe than to negotiate them alone.

Moreover, Britain’s volatile positions could change depending on the level of irresponsibility of those who establish them. In contrast, Spain has the indelible right to veto any unwanted agreement between the EU and UK regarding Gibraltar.

The specific relations between The Rock, as the British Overseas Territory is popularly known, and the neighboring Spanish region of Andalusia (and Spain more broadly) were agreed to at the end of 2018 in four Memorandums of Understanding that address the most sensitive areas – tobacco, citizens, the environment, customs and policing cooperation. A preliminary tax agreement is yet to be ratified. The task now is to adapt them, if necessary, to the new perspective. But the fact that the current British government has taken up a harder stance than its predecessor – from the same party – does not mean that Spanish interests will be harmed. Spain is remaining firm and consistent in its position.

Nor should it hurt the residents of Gibraltar, who voted overwhelmingly (95.91%) to remain in the EU in the Brexit referendum.

It is right for the Spanish caretaker government – without launching into antiquated nationalist crusades – to reiterate that Spain will not renounce anything in the medium or long term, not even the sovereignty of The Rock. The primary national interest in this issue is to allow people on both sides of the border to easily cross over to improve their economic and social wellbeing, and this is an objective interest that is wholly supported by the other side. Cutting off The Rock would be more problematic to a United Kingdom that is isolated, in a precarious situation, and without any trusted international friends: Donald Trump’s United States is not one.

Even more so if internal tensions between separatists in Scotland and Northern Ireland worsen. Couldn’t the people of Gibraltar perchance prioritize their relationship with continental Europe over their colonial links to a solitary metropolis?

English version by Melissa Kitson.

More information