De­bate about Gi­bral­tar is mired in the past

The Daily Telegraph - - Letters to the editor -

SIR – The King of Spain’s re­cent com­ments on Gi­bral­tar were wholly war­ranted. He de­manded a so­lu­tion ac­cept­able to every­one. Spain ob­vi­ously has an in­ter­est in Gi­bral­tar, where thou­sands of its cit­i­zens work and which is firmly at­tached to the Ibe­rian penin­sula.

Gi­bral­tar was cap­tured by the Bri­tish in 1704 in a war of ag­gres­sion that be­gan with Britain and the Holy Ro­man Em­peror at­tempt­ing to im­pose on Spain a monarch of their choice. Felipe V was not only the clos­est pos­si­ble heir, but had been named by the last Hab­s­burg king (Car­los II) as his suc­ces­sor, and was recog­nised by the Pope. What right did Britain have to de­cide who should rule in Spain?

Much is made of the Treaty of Utrecht, by which the Span­ish crown handed over Gi­bral­tar, but which gave Spain first re­fusal should Britain de­cide to re­lin­quish pos­ses­sion. As Gi­bral­tar is out­side the EU cus­toms union, there will have to be ne­go­ti­a­tions dur­ing Brexit. Gi­bral­tar im­ports £1.1bil­lion of goods from Spain and ex­ports £165mil­lion. This is clearly a mat­ter of le­git­i­mate Span­ish in­ter­est.

It should also not be for­got­ten that, in the Treaty of Utrecht, Britain promised not to al­low “Jews or Moors” to set­tle in the city – an un­der­tak­ing that is now hap­pily ig­nored. Ar­ti­cle XII gave Britain a con­tract to sup­ply slaves to Span­ish colonies for 30 years, which is shameful to both par­ties to­day.

While the pro­vi­sions of the treaty re­gard­ing Gi­bral­tar may be con­sid­ered the ba­sis of Britain’s sovereignty, it is not a sa­cred text. In­deed, one might con­sider Britain’s pos­ses­sion as the anachro­nis­tic legacy of an im­pe­rial past, when tak­ing the ter­ri­to­ries of other states was the in­ter­na­tional norm.

The rights of the cit­i­zens of Gi­bral­tar must be pro­tected, but its sta­tus re­mains a mat­ter that can only be de­ter­mined by the govern­ments of Britain and Spain to­gether, as King Felipe said.

Guy Stair Sainty

Lon­don W1

Penin­sula of the apes: a Bar­bary macaque dozes at the top of the Rock of Gi­bral­tar

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