A former leader of the UK Conservative Party inferenced that London would be willing to employ force to defend the territory in the event of an inflexible Spain. The disagreement was triggered by a clause in the EU Council’s draft-Brexit guidelines, that require the UK and Spain to agree on the status of Gibraltar.
Over the weekend, British politicians rejected calls for any sharing of sovereignty of Gibraltar between two countries.
One former leader of the Conservative Party likened the situation to the Falklands conflict against Argentina in 1982. In that incident the British military was deployed by the late former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. “Thirty-five years ago this week, another woman PM sent a task force halfway across the world to defend the freedom of another small group of British people against another Spanish-speaking country,” said Michael Howard, who led the Conservatives between 2003 and 2005. “I’m absolutely certain that our current prime minister would show the same resolve in standing by the people of Gibraltar.” These comments were echoed by the UK’s Defense Minister, Michael Fallon, who said London would go “all the way” to keep Gibraltar in British hands.
Gibraltar has been in a British territory since 1704, when Spain formally ceded it to the UK in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht. But, over the years, Spain has contested the UK’s claim to the territory. The small nation was placed on the UN’s list of “non-self-governing territories” in 1946.
In what is seemingly an escalation of the agitation between the UK and Spain, the Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis stated that they would not block Scotland in its bit for independence.
Scottish independence is highly controversial in Spain because of the secessionist movement in Catalonia and as a result, Madrid has been an obstacle to Scotland’s post-Brexit desire to join the EU. “Initially, I don’t think we would block it,” he said in an interview published in El Pais. “Having said that, if, in application of its laws, the outcome of that process is a division of the United Kingdom, any part of the United Kingdom that becomes a state and wants to join the EU will have to apply. And follow the steps that are stipulated,” he said.
Dastis refused talk about Spain’s veto rights when it comes to the Gibraltar elephant in the room, but said he viewed the EU’s stance very positively. “When the United Kingdom leaves the EU, the EU partner is Spain, and in the case of Gibraltar the EU is therefore obliged to take the side of Spain,” he said. “I do not think it’s necessary to talk about vetoes.”
Dastis said that Spain’s stance to not block attempts by Scotland to join the EU had nothing to do with Catalonia, with whom tensions are high. “In Scotland there was a referendum in accordance with the laws,” he said, referring to the 2014 vote to remain in Britain. “In Spain it can not be in accordance with the Constitution. They (Scotland and Catalonia) are not comparable cases.”
Catalonia has vowed to hold an official referendum on its potential split from Spain later this year.
Regarding Brexit in general, Dastis said Spain preferred a “soft Brexit” – one in which Britain remained linked through such things as tech single market. He added that Spain wanted to have a close relationship with Britain. “As close as possible to what we have now. If that is to be defined as Brexit soft I am not uncomfortable with that,” he said.