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Chief Picardo, The Rock
London

Brexit heads for the rock of Gibraltar

A European Council document on Friday suggested that Spain now has the power of an effective veto on whether the Brexit deal applies to a part of strategic British territory south of Spain.

Published: April 3, 2017, 10:22 am

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    Gibraltar has become a very valuable bargaining chip in Brexit negotiations between the EU and Britain after EU guidelines made it clear that Spain will be supported in any trade or sovereignty dispute involving British overseas territory.

    The residents of Gibraltar have voted almost unanimously, by a margin of 96 percent, to remain in the EU.

    Gibraltar’s MEP, Clare Moody, said Britain’s failure to mention Gibraltar in the Article 50 letter triggering Brexit, had emboldened the Spanish. Spanish MEPs and diplomats are said to have been thrilled that made no mention of Gibraltar was made.

    On Wednesday, the Gibraltar administration said they would fiercely oppose any Spanish moves to use Brexit negotiations as a means to gain more control over the territory. “Our sovereignty is not in play. We will be no pawn in Brexit and no victim of Brexit.”

    Gibraltar’s chief has insisted the Rock will remain part of Britain despite reports that prime minister Theresa May ignored his wish to mention the peninsula in her Article 50 letter to the EU last Wednesday.

    “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,” Fabian Picardo, the chief minister of Gibraltar said.

    According to Downing Street, May had called Picardo on Sunday morning to say the UK remained “steadfastly committed to our support for Gibraltar, its people and its economy”. May told Gibraltar’s chief minister that Britain will never allow Spain to take control over the peninsula against its will.

    British officials were clearly taken by surprise, when they learned that the draft guidelines drawn up by EU leaders state that the Brexit deal will not apply to Gibraltar without an “agreement between the kingdom of Spain and the UK”.

    A senior UK source told the Guardian that the clause was “extraordinary” because it effectively signalled a total lack of British sovereignty over Gibraltar. The British government would never tolerate that, the source said.

    Another UK official told The Telegraph it is “absolutely unacceptable” and the measures give Spain too much leverage over the future of Gibraltar.

    But a senior EU official commented: “The union will stick up for its members and that means Spain now.” Residents of Gibraltar, which Spain has sought to reclaim for centuries, want to be part of the EU. Two referendums – in 1967 and 2002 – have shown that the overwhelming majority of residents wish Gibraltar to remain British however.

    A former Royal Navy commander meanwhile warned Spain that Britain could “cripple” them if a war was to break out over Gibraltar.

    Tensions regarding the future of the British overseas territory have risen after the EU proposal handed the Spanish government a veto on any decision regarding Gibraltar when the UK leaves the EU.

    “We are significantly more powerful than them, if it came to it we are probably three times more powerful than they are,” Rear-Admiral Chris Parry, a former director of operational capability at the Ministry of Defence, said. “We could cripple Spain in the medium term and I think the Americans would probably support us too.”

    Parry warned: “Spain should learn from history that it is never worth taking us on and that we could still singe the King of Spain’s beard.”

    Sir Michael Fallon, British Defence Secretary, has also declared his intent to “protect” Gibraltar “all the way”. Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, Fallon said: “The people of Gibraltar have made it clear that they don’t want to live under the sovereignty of Spain. Gibraltar is going to be protected all the way.”

    Know as “The Rock”, Gibraltar has been a British Overseas Territory since 1713 with its 30 000 inhabitants. It has also been an uninterupted source of diplomatic squabbles due to its strategic position on the Mediterranean Sea, which is connected to the Atlantic Ocean, and almost completely enclosed by land.

    The Falklands War, also known as the Guerra del Atlántico Sur, was a ten-week war between another Spanish-speaking country Argentina and the United Kingdom in 1982, in which the UK went to war to protect its territory.

    Brexit is obviously frought with danger, as Scotland and Northern Ireland are both rising up against their English countrymen, to remain in the EU.

    The day after the Brexit victory, Spain’s foreign minister at the time, José Manuel García Margallo, said the outcome would hasten the return of the Spanish flag over the territory.

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