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Gibraltar minister: 'Our rock will stay British'

April 3, 2017

The head of Gibraltar's government has unequivocally stated that his territory will remain British despite Brexit. A recent EU proposal would give Spain a say in deciding Gibraltar's fate once the UK leaves the bloc.

Gibraltar Blick auf das Mittelmeer
Image: Imago/Westend61

The Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, wrote in an article for the "Daily Express" that Spain was attempting to "[manipulate] the European Council for its own, narrow political interests" and that this effort was being supported by the Council's President, Donald Tusk.

After the Brexit vote, Spain reasserted its long-standing desire to see Spanish-British co-sovereignty in Gibraltar, with "the Rock" eventually becoming completely Spanish.

The article came the same day as a phone conversation between Picardo and British Prime Minister Theresa May. A statement following the call from Downing Street said the prime minister would "never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes."

Rocky issue

Gibraltar is a rocky British outpost on the southern tip of Spain.

A proposal from the European Union envisions offering Spain a right to veto over Gibraltar's future trade relations with the bloc.

Europe's most famous rock

The veto would give Madrid sway over the fate of the enclave once Britain has left the bloc, meaning the status of its overseas territory is no longer an internal EU matter.

Spain ceded the rocky outpost - just eight miles across the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea from Morocco - a little more than 300 years ago, but has long sought to have it returned.

The power of a veto over trade relations between Gibraltar and the EU would put Spain in a powerful position concerning the strategically important outpost.

Stoney resolve

In 2002 voters in Gibraltar rejected the idea of Britain sharing sovereignty with Spain by 99 percent to 1 percent. But the predominantly British population overwhelmingly backed remaining in the EU in last June's Brexit referendum.

Picardo mentioned this in his article, stating Spain's stance was "predictable" and "one of the concerns we had about the UK leaving when we voted 96 percent to remain in the EU."

Now that Brexit has occured, Picardo referred to the "rock-like support for Gibraltar" of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and "the UK's commitment to our right to remain British."

"It is time to see that commitment translated into action," Picardo wrote.

Parallel to Falklands?

One British politician appeared quite eager to take action on Sunday in an interview with Britain's Sky News.

Michael Howard - a former head of Britain's conservative party, and cabinet member under Tory Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major – brought up Britain's decision to go to war with Argentina after that country's military junta seized the Falkland Islands.

That occurred on April 2, 1982. Three days later, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher dispatched a naval force to take back the territory. Argentina surrendered on June 14.

"Thirty-five years ago this week another woman prime minister sent a task force half way across the world to defend the freedom of another small group of British people against another Spanish speaking country," Howard said on Sky News, "and I'm absolutely certain that our current prime minister will show the same resolve in standing by the people of Gibraltar."

Spain's Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said on Monday that "the Spanish government is a little surprised by the tone of comments coming out of Britain, a country known for its composure."

In an interview on Sunday, he said he viewed the EU's stance positively.

mz/msh (Reuters, dpa)