The Sunday Post (Newcastle)

Between a Rock and a hard place: Gibraltar’s relief at election result

Right-wing party’s plan to suffocate ‘Rock’ thwarted

- By Struan Stevenson

The population of Gibraltar’s sigh of relief at the result of the general election in Spain on July 23, may be short lived.

It had been widely anticipate­d that the socialist government of Pedro Snchez would be ousted and replaced by a coalition between the Conservati­ve People’s Party (PP) of Alberto Núñez Feijóo and the ultraright-wing, anti-immigrant Vox party led by Santiago Abascal.

The Vox Party has in the past said that it wants to close the border with Gibraltar to suffocate it economical­ly so that Spanish sovereignt­y can be reclaimed.

In the event, although the PP gained the most votes, their potential Vox party partners flopped, leaving the Conservati­ves and the Socialists and their respective coalition partners neck and neck, effectivel­y preventing either from forming a government, making a new general election later this year or early next year a virtual certainty.

Sánchez will, in the meantime, continue to run a caretaker government until the dust settles, giving the people of Gibraltar a further breathing space to celebrate the absence of their Vox adversarie­s from the corridors of power in Madrid.

Familiar to thousands of Scottish cruise ship passengers, the monolithic Rock of Gibraltar rears up from the stunning coastline of the Costa del Sol. Occupying an area of little more than two-and-a-half square miles, the British Overseas Territory was captured from Spain by an Anglo-Dutch force in 1704 during the War of the Spanish Succession.

It was formally ceded to Britain in 1717 under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht. It has been a bone of contention for the Spanish ever since, leaving the people of Gibraltar between a rock and a hard place.

Gibraltar became a key strategic base for the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars and played an important role during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Its commanding position at the entrance to the Mediterran­ean from the Atlantic has maintained the Rock’s standing as a critical military base for the British armed forces.

Tourists from the many cruise ships that visit Gibraltar and climb its narrow streets, or take the cable car to see the famous Barbary macaques, will recognise the significan­ce of the harbour and airport far below and understand why the Spanish and, in particular, the rightwing Vox party, would love to get their hands on both.

Gibraltari­ans were shaking in their shoes at the thought of the Vox party entering government. The autonomous government of Gibraltar filed a criminal complaint in the courts in Madrid, claiming that Vox was issuing statements “clearly designed to create an atmosphere of hatred among Spaniards towards Gibraltari­ans.” The criminal complaint stated that Vox’s leaders had described Gibraltar as “a leech” or “a parasite,” along with accusing the British territory of holding Spanish workers “hostage” and of being a den of “money launderers” and “criminals.”

The UK Government was also nervously watching the outcome of the Spanish election. There is a general view in Whitehall that Spanish politician­s who refer to Gibraltar disparagin­gly as a “British colony” convenient­ly omit to mention their own Spanish colonies of Ceuta and Melilla on the Moroccan coast of north Africa.

Although the Rock often seems more British than Britain, 96% of Gibraltari­ans voted to remain part of the EU in the 2016 Brexit referendum. Neverthele­ss, like Scotland, they have had to accept Brexit by default, potentiall­y facing cross-border issues similar to those in Northern Ireland, although obviously on a much smaller scale.

In fact, there are only two entry points to Gibraltar, one for vehicles and one for pedestrian­s. Those who enter on foot have to cross the runway to get into town. Although the population of Gibraltar is only 33,000, they rely on 15,000 Spanish workers crossing the border daily.

When Britain withdrew from the EU on January 31, 2020, in a specially negotiated deal between the EU, UK and Spain, it was agreed that Gibraltar would remain in the EU’s Schengen area, enabling continued access without border controls.

The agreement was to run for a four years, after which the EU and UK were to enter into a new treaty with Spain. Whitehall and Gibraltar will now be hoping that a deal can be finalised under the caretaker premiershi­p of Sánchez.

 ?? Picture Shuttersto­ck ?? A Barbary ape sits on a railing on the Rock of Gibraltar.
Picture Shuttersto­ck A Barbary ape sits on a railing on the Rock of Gibraltar.

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