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.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.