Gibraltar and the relics of empire
Brexit has resurrected jingoistic ghosts of imperialism
Rightly or wrongly, the EU has granted Spain a veto over the treatment of Gibraltar in the Brexit negotiations. The alacrity with which some in Britain banged the drums of war in response exemplifies how Brexit has resurrected the jingoistic ghosts of imperialism.
It is hard to disagree with the sober journal, Foreign Policy, when it said the UK “doesn’t need a war to protect its imperial remnants - it needs a psychiatrist”. But if London needs therapy, Madrid should probably check into a similar clinic. Spain insists that Gibraltar is Spanish territory, regardless of the steadfast desire of the vast majority of its inhabitants to remain British. The Spanish position also echoes a disreputable imperial past, mirrored in Madrid’s blind failure to comprehend independence movements in Catalonia and the Basque Country.
Indeed, contemporary Britain’s willingness to accept self-determination for Scotland and Northern Ireland contrasts favourably with Spain’s dogma that its fissiparous body politic is eternally indivisible. Madrid is also hypocritical on Gibraltar. It refuses to engage with Morocco over the status of Ceuta and Melilla, enclaves it has occupied on Moroccan soil for centuries, relics of empire.
And the Spanish can be as irresponsibly bellicose as the British. In 2002, Spain plunged headlong into armed conflict with Moroccan troops who had landed on Perejil. This is a tiny uninhabited rock off the Moroccan coast to which Spain claims dubious sovereignty.
Gibraltarians find themselves in an unenviable position. Though they overwhelmingly express loyalty to British identity, they do not form part of the UK (this Rock is an ‘overseas territory’, aka colony). They also voted by a huge majority to remain in the EU. But that does not mean they want to become part of Spain. Yet a hard border would badly hurt them and Spaniards who work there.
Shared sovereignty, re-proposed last week by former Labour minister Peter Hain, would be a rational solution though it might cause some interesting headaches in Brussels. Sadly, rational solutions are increasingly out of favour.