Theresa goes to war on Gibraltar
Ancient feud erupts after EU gives Spain veto over future of Rock in Brexit negotiations
‘We cannot be bullied by Spain’
THE centuries- old dispute over Gibraltar is threatening to halt Brexit negotiations after the European Union yesterday backed Spain’s claim to the British territory.
Brussels chiefs sparked a diplomatic feud yesterday after including a veto for Madrid over the Rock’s future in their list of Brexit negotiating demands.
UK politicians accused the EU of orchestrating a ‘shameful’ attempt to inflame the historic territorial wrangle.
Despite Theresa May’s insistence that Gibraltar would not be used as a political pawn, the EU said Spain should be given a say over any future decisions relating to the territory.
The move threatened an early breakdown in negotiations after EU officials said they would not remove the clause. It also infuriated MPs, who said Britain ‘must not be bullied’ into compromises by Spain.
Tory MP Andrew Rosindell, of the all-parliamentary group on Gibraltar, said: ‘British people must and will stand together, we cannot be bullied by Spain. Any agreement must apply equally to the whole British family and that includes Gibraltar. There can be no compromise on this.’
Jack Lopresti, Tory chairman of the all-party group, said: ‘It’s predictable given Spain’s previous behaviour, they would try to use Brexit as a fig leaf for trouble-making. It is shameful that the EU have attempted to allow Spain an effective veto over the future of British sovereign territory, flying in the face of the will of the people of Gibraltar.’
Madrid has already indicated it would block a deal over aircraft landing rights in Gibraltar, which could see flights grounded.
The decision to include the veto in the negotiating guidelines produced by European Council president Donald Tusk followed intense lobbying by Spanish diplomats.
EU sources also revealed Brussels has decided to depart from its current neutral position over the dispute following the Brexit result, and will now take Spain’s side on Gibraltar.
One senior EU official said: ‘The Union will stick up for its members and that means Spain now. There is a difference [now]. After Brexit is notified there is a Union of 27 and only one side of that argument is represented.’
Fabian Picardo, Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, last night accused the EU of ‘singling out’ the territory in an ‘ unnecessary, unjustified and unacceptable’ way.
He accused Spain of ‘holding the EU to ransom’ over Gibraltar’s airport, but insisted: ‘The whole EU should know: this changes nothing in respect of our continued, exclusive British sovereignty.’
The veto clause states no agreement between the EU and UK may apply to Gibraltar ‘ without the agreement of Spain’. Explaining its inclusion, an EU official said: ‘The text means what it says. Any extension of [a] deal to Gibraltar, which is a disputed territory, will require the support of Spain.’
The veto demand follows months of increasingly antagonistic behaviour by Spain towards residents of the disputed territory, which became a British colony in 1830.
Following the EU referendum, in which Gibraltarians voted 96 per cent to remain, Spain’s then-foreign minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo proclaimed the likelihood of a ‘Spanish flag on the Rock’.
Spanish officials yesterday celebrated the EU’s decision to give Madrid the power to shape Gibral- tar’s future, claiming it as their ‘ colony’. Senior Spanish MEP Esteban Gonzalez Pons pointed out that Theresa May failed to mention the territory in her letter to Mr Tusk on Wednesday invoking Article 50. He said this showed it was ‘a colony like St Helena’ rather than part of the UK.
But the accusation was immediately rebutted by No 10, which said Mrs May spelled out her support for Gibraltar when she triggered the beginning of Brexit.
In the Commons on Wednesday, she said: ‘We are absolutely steadfast in our support of Gibraltar ... We are very clear Gibraltar is covered by our Brexit negotiations.’
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has also vowed a ‘rock-like resistance’ to any attempts to alter Gibraltar’s sovereignty. The veto would let Spain block any aspects of a future relationship with the UK it viewed as unfavourable, allowing Madrid to wreak havoc in talks. For example, Spain is likely to insist that Gibraltar changes its ‘unfair’ 10 per cent corporation tax rate.
Nicola Sturgeon yesterday wrote to Mrs May vowing to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence before Britain leaves the EU. The SNP leader claimed the question was now a matter of ‘not if, but how’ a vote would be held. Mrs May has ruled out an early second referendum and Edinburgh cannot hold a legally binding ballot without Parliament’s approval. Miss Sturgeon has refused to speculate on what the possible next steps could be.