Could joint UK-Spanish sovereignty deal solve Gibraltar impasse?
Former Labour Cabinet Minister Peter Hain has called for the sovereignty of Gibraltar to be split between Spain and Britain, as Brexit negotiations reignite a centuries-old dispute.
Hain, who tried to reach such a deal in 2002, said much has changed for Gibraltar after Britain voted to leave the EU, and that now is the “surely” the right time “to dust down the files” and revive the agreement.
A referendum in the same year resulted in 99 percent of Gibraltarians voting against the concept of joint sovereignty.
Hain said the only concession Gibraltarians would have to make under such a deal would be placing a Spanish flag beside a British one on the Rock.
“Their [Gibraltarian] cherished British citizenship, traditions, customs and way of life would be unchanged – except for the better, because being under siege from Spain would disappear,” said Hain, writing in the Guardian on Thursday.
“Pints of beer would still be served in British-style pubs.
“Gibraltarians would keep their institutions – self-government, an elected House of Assembly, courts and police service.”
His comments come amid a row sparked last week when the EU drafted guidelines for Brexit talks which included Spain having a say on whether a UK withdrawal deal would also apply to Gibraltar.
Downing Street said it would never return Gibraltar to Spain against the “freely and democratically expressed wishes” of its inhabitants.
Ex-Conservative leader Michael Howard caused shockwaves when he said the UK would go to war with Spain if it attempted to use Brexit to win long-standing territorial claims over the Rock, as former Tory PM Margaret Thatcher had done with Argentina over the Falklands.
“Thirty-five years ago this week, another woman prime minister sent a task force halfway across the world to defend the freedom of another small group of British people against another Spanish-speaking country, and I’m absolutely certain that our current prime minister will show the same resolve in standing by the people of Gibraltar,” Howard told Sky News on Sunday.
Defense Secretary Michael Fallon echoed the tough stance, saying the UK would protect Gibraltar “all the way.”
“We’re going to look after Gibraltar. Gibraltar is going to be protected all the way because the sovereignty cannot be changed without the agreement of the people of Gibraltar,” he said on the BBC’s ‘Andrew Marr Show’.
But the defense secretary also tried to cool tensions as he said that Spain had yet to even raise the issue of Gibraltar’s governance.
May, however, dismissed suggestions of a war with Spain, and said the solution lies in the two opposing parties carrying out lengthy discussions.
Tensions resurfaced though when the Royal Navy ordered a Spanish warship out of the disputed territorial waters.
The joint sovereignty deal, which Hain claims he was very close to securing in 2002 before Spain hesitated, would allow the peninsula to have more “freedom and security.”
“Resurrecting co-sovereignty today would doubtless provoke a similar reaction on the Rock even though it’s in a very much worse place than 15 years ago because of likely exclusion from the European Union very much against its will.
“Yet it would give Gibraltarians much more freedom and security than ever historically,” he said.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Theresa May and President of the EU Council Donald Tusk said they will try to relieve tensions during Brexit talks, especially when it comes to agreeing on “inevitably difficult” issues like Gibraltar.
An EU official said May and Tusk met at Downing Street, London, and had “good and friendly” talks for almost two hours, during which they committed to maintaining a “constructive approach”.
"They agreed to stay in regular contact throughout the Brexit process to keep a constructive approach and seek to lower tensions that may arise, also when talks on some issues like Gibraltar inevitably will become difficult,” the official said on condition of anonymity, according to Reuters.