The Gibraltar Question

In early September, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo expressed his goals for a post-Brexit Gibraltar: to “cement the relationship with the United Kingdom” and to “establish that bilateral relationship of trade to continue the morning after Brexit as if the single market between Gibraltar and the UK seamlessly moved from one moment to the next.” Yet, for the British Overseas Territory, the prospect of an orderly, smooth Brexit has dwindled in recent months.

The territory of Gibraltar has experienced significant news coverage due to its undetermined relationship with the European Union. In April 2017, Lord Michael Howard, a former Conservative leader, publicly announced his confidence “that our current Prime Minister will show the same resolve [as Margaret Thatcher in regards to the Falkland Islands] in standing by the people of Gibraltar.” Media outlets came to the conclusion that such a statement was, indeed, an indication of war. At the center of Anglo-Spanish relations is Gibraltar. The issue arose when European Council President Donald Tusk declared Madrid would have veto power over Gibraltar in Brexit negotiations.

Amidst the uncertainty over Brexit negotiations, the assertion of Spanish sovereignty looms in the background. Located on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, Gibraltar had been Spanish territory since the mid-fifteenth century up until the War of the Spanish Succession. It was then that the Habsburg monarchy lost claims to the territory in 1704. At less than two square miles in area, Gibraltar represents a small yet significant part of the United Kingdom. Its fortuitous position at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea, as well as its strategic importance as a naval base during World War II, secured its spot as one of the ever-present symbols of the former British Empire. To this day, its citizens are fervent British citizens, voting to remain part of the United Kingdom in a 1967 referendum. Sentiments were also echoed in a 2002 referendum.

But the 2002 referendum implied that Gibraltar wanted to remain part of an EU-member UK. Tensions have risen for those that voted to remain part of Britain, but also voted to remain part of the EU. Access to Europe’s single market, an utterly impossible prospect according to the German finance minister, was one of the driving factors that convinced 96 percent of Gibraltarians to vote Remain. The question stands as to whether those voters identify so as true British citizens, even at the expense of EU membership.

In September, Prime Minister Theresa May asserted that Gibraltar “will be fully involved” as the United Kingdom and its territories begins the withdrawal process. Its involvement in Brussels talks is key, as over 96 percent of the Gibraltar population voted to remain within the EU. With its geographic proximity and strong economic ties to its northern neighbor, Spain, Gibraltar benefits tremendously from open borders and tourism from its European counterparts. Although May has stated that the British government’s position on Gibraltar is “very clear,” her plan for an orderly Brexit has been anything but so.

Members of both the British and Gibraltarian governments have convened at Joint Ministerial Committees to discuss that the specific priorities for Gibraltar in a post-Brexit world. At the recent fourth meeting, Picardo and Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia, met with members of Cabinet, the Department for Exiting the European Union, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and more. In a recent interview, Picardo emphasized how Gibraltar must be included in Brexit negotiations going forward: “it’s a moment of aspiration when we try to do the best possible deal for the whole of the United Kingdom, including Gibraltar.” But in what ways can this British Overseas Territory sway Brussels negotiations? And, for those 96% of Gibraltarians that voted Remain in the 2016 referendum, what does an ideal Brexit look like?

Image Credit: InfoGibraltar

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