Gibraltar – or “the Rock” – a headland with a population of just 30,000, is making a big splash as Brexit negotiations begin.
The British Overseas Territory has accused neighbouring Spain of manipulating the European Council for its own political interests. It follows the body’s proposal to allow Madrid a veto on Gibraltar’s future relationship with the EU.
The unexpected clause states that once the UK leaves the EU, “no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom.”
It effectively gives Spain the right to exclude the territory from any transitional single market access agreed between the EU and UK, or indeed a future trade deal, if Madrid is not content with Gibraltar’s status.
Critics of the draft guidelines say the bloc appears to be siding with Spain in a centuries-long territorial dispute.
It has long sought sovereignty or co-sovereignty of “the rock”.
Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo said:
“This is a disgraceful attempt by Spain to manipulate the European council for its own, narrow political interests. Brexit is already complicated enough without Spain trying to complicate it further.”
Looking after the Union
Brussels officials have been quoted as saying the EU is standing up for the interests of its members.
Madrid is alleged to have pushed for the inclusion of the Gibraltar issue in the guidelines, which are to be refined at a summit of 27 EU leaders at the end of April.
Post-Brexit talks regarding Gibraltar are likely to centre around border controls with EU member Spain, airport landing rights and the corporate tax rate, which currently stands at ten percent.
Picardo, says “the Rock” will not be pushed around.
“Spain might like to use Gibraltar as a political pawn. The European Council might have allowed Spain to put this issue in the current draft of the guidelines, but Gibraltar is not going to be a political pawn in Brexit. Neither is it going to be a victim of Brexit,” he said in a statement.
In January, 2017, Spain’s Foreign Minister said “the Rock” would not be put in the middle of Brexit negotiations.
In the June, 2016, referendum Gibraltar voted 96 percent in favour of remaining in the European Union, but has consistently rejected the idea of shared sovereignty with Spain.
The UK has pledged its support for the territory.
‘Appalling and careless’
However, UK Prime Minister Theresa May failed to make any mention of Gibraltar in her letter triggering Article 50 and beginning divorce proceedings.
Chairman of the House of Lords EU Committee, Lord Boswell, labelled the omission “unfortunate,” adding:
“The door has been opened for the EU to present [Gibraltar] as a disputed territory.”
Gibraltar’s MEP, Clare Moody, has represented the territory in the European Parliament since 2014. She claims the failure to mention “the Rock” signals Westminster is not affording it the same importance in Brexit discussions as Scotland and Northern Ireland.
“It is appalling, and an example of the carelessness with which the government are handling these negotiations overall.”
However, Spanish MEP and vice-chair of the European People’s Party, Esteban González Pons, told Spain’s El País newspaper that May leaving out Gibraltar was “very relevant,” “because Gibraltar isn’t part of the United Kingdom; it’s a colony like the island of St Helena.”