Gibraltar: Posturing or a Threat?

In 1713, the small peninsula of Gibraltar was ceded from Spain to Great Britain in the Treaty of Utrecht after being captured in 1704 by mostly British and Dutch forces. Since then it has served as a trading outpost of the British Empire with the occasional Spanish siege, the last of which was in 1779. Until Franco became Spain’s head of state there had been little in the way of diplomatic issues between Britain and Spain over the status of Gibraltar but during the 1960’s the Franco government put pressure on Britain and a referendum was held in 1967, in which 99.6% of Gibraltarians voted to remain British. Another referendum was held in 2002 but a democratic Spain still failed to entice the population of Gibraltar as a similar amount of Gibraltarians voted to remain a British Overseas Territory.

The current row has been coming and going for a while now, mainly due to fishing disputes between Spanish and Gibraltarian fishing crews. Gibraltar has accused Spain of fishing in Gibraltarian waters without its permission and in some cases the Guardia Civil has crossed into Gibraltarian waters, which has obviously heightened distrust between Spain and Gibraltar. Recently, the Gibraltarian government has created an artificial reef which it says will allow marine wildlife to breed and will boost tourism to the territory. Spain’s argument is that local fishermen will be affected by this and have stated that the reef has broken some of the fishing nets used by local fishermen.

In the current row, Spain has threatened to charge visitors, who use the land border to Gibraltar a fee of €50, close Spanish airspace to planes using the airport at Gibraltar and to investigate the tax affairs of Gibraltarians who own property in Spain. The First Minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, has responded by saying that these threats are “more reminiscent of the type of statement you’d hear from North Korea than from an EU partner” (Wintour, 2013). While the rhetoric is getting stronger, there is hope that this row can end amicably between the parties involved.

Of course this is not the only example where a British overseas territory has come into conflict with a neighbouring state in recent years. The Falklands Islands dispute with Argentina is almost certainly the most famous example and can give us an example of how this particular issue will be dealt with. While at the moment, Spain is not moving to reclaim Gibraltar in the same way that Argentina has been trying to do with the Falkland Islands, a reassertion of British sovereignty over Gibraltar, supported by the people of Gibraltar could be a good course of action. It is also worth adding that both Argentina and Spain are going through very difficult economic times and the governments of these states will be desperate to increase their popularity. One way is to distract the population from these problems by making loud noises in foreign affairs, much like how the Argentine government is claiming the Falklands and how the Spanish government is making threats to the Gibraltarian government.

While there will doubtless be some people in Britain who want to give Gibraltar back to the Spanish, they should first understand that by the terms of the Utrecht Treaty, Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain indefinitely and would require the consent of the Spanish government (not too difficult to achieve). This is also ignoring the fact that it is the clear wish of the people of Gibraltar that the territory should remain under British rule and not to be transferred to Spain, even partially. Numerous British governments have declared that, as with the Falklands, there will be no negotiations until the residents wish to stop remaining British citizens.

It is likely that the row will subside in the coming days or weeks but the long term issue of Gibraltar’s sovereignty will always be a controversial topic between Spain and Britain. This is particularly true as the Spanish government will be eager to distract the population from their economic woes. However, until the population of Gibraltar decides that it no longer wishes to remain British then it is highly unlikely that anything will change in the short or even long term.

By Simon Turner.


Tags: , , , , , , ,

Categories: International politics

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One Comment on “Gibraltar: Posturing or a Threat?”

  1. August 21, 2013 at 6:57 am #

    Reblogged this on louisdubois55.

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