Britain’s tone on the future of Gibraltar could not be clearer when last week, Michael Howard, a former leader of the Conservative Party compared the clash over The Rock with the conflict that led to the Falklands War in 1982. Lord Howard said Prime Minister Theresa May would “show the same resolve” as Margaret Thatcher demonstrated against the Argentinians on Gibraltar.
Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said Madrid was astounded by his comment, and the “lack of composure which the United Kingdom is well known for”.
On Sunday, Mrs May on insisted Gibraltar will never slip from British control while she is in power, to relieve the doubts of visiting Fabian Picardo, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar.
British foreign minister Boris Johnson also recently stated “Gibraltar is not for sale.”
He added “London’s position was very, very clear, which is that the sovereignty of Gibraltar is unchanged, and it’s not going to change.”
Since 1713 Gibraltar has been a British overseas territory although it is attached to Spain, who claim The Rock should be Spanish territory.
There is confusion over Gibraltar’s future because of Brexit as the EU says Spain will have to agree to cover any trade deal between the EU and Britain to Gibraltar, which means Madrid would have the power to prevent Gibraltar benefiting from trade deals made following Brexit. It is unclear why only Spain should have a say on this, and not the other EU member states. Citizens of the rock will be concerned that the EU wants to allow Spain to sign off on the Brexit arrangements that concern them, as more than 95 per cent rejected even partial Spanish sovereignty in a 2002 referendum.
In the 2002 referendum Gibraltarians were asked “Do you approve of the principle that Britain and Spain should share sovereignty over Gibraltar?” They voted overwhelmingly against, with 17,900 no votes against 187 yes votes.
However, the Brexit vote is a source of concern for Gibraltarians, of whom 95% voted to remain in the EU.
The Spanish government say there are no plans in place to close the border between Gibraltar and Spain which has been open since 1985. It was closed in 1969 by Franco.
After Britain voted to leave the EU, Madrid suggested sovereignty of The Rock should be shared between the UK and Spain, which would permit Gibraltar to remain in the EU, a concept which the UK government strongly rejects.