Gibraltar: the yardstick of the future of Spanish and British relations

Gibraltar is a key issue that Madrid and London have to discuss under Brexit negotiations. Spanish shared sovereignty plans over the Rock do not satisfy nor British nor Gibraltarian citizens.

Gibraltar’s status post-Brexit is one of the numerous issues that the United Kingdom must solve with its European partners when Article 50 EUT’s negotiations begin. With the extra topping of Spanish interest in the Rock.

Free movement of persons and sovereignty will entirely focus this situation. No party has got off to a good start yet: Theresa May, British PM suggested restricting this key principle of the EU’s and Jose Manuel García Margallo, Spanish Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Minister ironically claimed to give Gibraltar back by flying the Spanish flag in an epic way.

Spanish and British post-Brexit relations are concerned with other topics such as its bilateral trade bonds, its likely new expats’ visas regulations, and its Social Security and Double Taxation Treaties, but none are more “patriotic” than Gibraltar’s issue.

The Rock’s GDP is estimated at £1768.4m during the second quarter of 2016 while it was up to £1637.75m in 2014. That year’s inflation was calculated up to 1.8% while its GDP grew up to 10.3% in 2015.

There are no updated figures with regard to Spanish and Gibraltar’s economic impact, though a report was released by Gibraltar’s Chamber of Commerce in 2007 in which the impact was calculated to be around €470m merely in the Campo de Gibraltar’s county in Andalusian Cádiz province.

That impact is mostly as a result of Spanish daily workers coming into Gibraltar by crossing the famous “Verja”, the Gibraltar and Spanish fence which plays the role of a “border”. These workers amounted up to 2,750 in 2007. The crisis boosted the arrival of more Spanish labourers. By February 2016 they were up to 6,873 and reached 9,000 by June.

There is no doubt about the economic and social influence that these Spanish workers in Gibraltar have for both territories.

May’s limiting the free movement of people cannot be done until a conclusion has been reached during the next EU negotiations. Similarly, Margallo’s intention to enclose llanitos (treating them as third countries’ citizens) will not amount to anything until the next negotiations are discussed, as this would breach the 1986’s Single European Act.

A United Kingdom outside of the EU, with European Treaties no longer applied for them and its territories, would allow Spain to take control of the fence in Gibraltar: Article X of Utrecht Treaty’s prerogatives will be restored.

Before Spain and Britain assert their supremacy,, a kind of negotiation on the Rock needs to be established, which takes into account the people of Gibraltar.

At this point, it may be necessary to remember two facts relating to Gibraltarian citizens: the first one is that when the Brexit referendum was held, 96% of the Rock’s population decided to remain in the EU. The second one refers to two referenda also held on Spanish sovereignty claims over Gibraltar in 1967 and 2002. In both of these years, Gibraltarians rejected coming back to Spanish hands by 99.64% and 98.48% respectively.

The 2006 Constitution of Gibraltar subordinates the Rock’s right of self-determination to the existing Treaties among Spain and the United Kingdom.

In this sense, José Manuel García Margallo, the Spanish Foreign Affairs minister proposed a shared sovereignty of Gibraltar between Spain and the UK in a similar way to Mónaco or even Andorra. The Spanish Constitution of 1978 includes a way to include a future Spanish Rock on its territorial boundaries (Article 144.b). This is, of course, a way to solve the problem but once again these are not bearing in mind Llanitos. Hearing them would allow for more of a democratic path to be followed.

The opinions of the Gibraltarians were listened to on this for the first time in 2006 when the Córdoba Agreement was signed by former Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos, UK Minister for Europe Geoff Hoon and Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Peter Caruana. These three parties were negotiating at the same level.

The agreement established was described as a ‘Tripartite Forum’: Spain, the UK, and Gibraltar jointly agreed on developing communications between Madrid and the British overseas territory (phone lines, commercial flights), border controls and pension payments to Spanish workers in the Rock. This is just a small step, but one in the right direction.

But when the Spanish conservatives, Partido Popular, won the 2011 elections, they left the Tripartite Forum and brought back previous co-sovereignty plans over Gibraltar just like Margallo.

However, the only way in which this problem can be resolved is by bearing in mind what the people of Gibraltar have to say on the country’s future. Either as a new independent territory, under Spanish sovereignty or as a shared territory among Madrid and London, they have to decide.

León Fernando del Canto is managing partner of Del Canto Chambers

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