Gibraltar: a Brexit negotiating weapon for Madrid, EU

The guidelines stated: "After the UK leaves the union, no agreement between the EU and the UK may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without agreement between Spain and the UK". About 30,000 people live in Gibraltar, who are British citizens but govern their own affairs, except in matters of foreign policy and defense.

"The Royal Navy challenges all unlawful maritime incursions into British Gibraltar Territorial Waters — and did so again on this occasion", the Foreign Office said in a statement.

British Prime Minister Theresa May triggered the formal divorce process last week, nine months after Britons voted in a referendum to leave the EU.

The British Conservative Party leader, Lord Michael Howardin, claimed that the United Kingdom would be prepared to go to war to defend "The Rock".

Spain's top diplomat said Sunday that his government is urging the European Union to side with Madrid on the future of the British territory of Gibraltar, which lies at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula and Spain has long sought to reclaim. Foreign secretary Boris Johnson said the British government's support for Gibraltar will remain "implacable and rock-like".

So not only is Gibraltar an early thorn in what seems destined to be a prickly negotiation between the United Kingdom and the remaining 27 EU members, it also signals that the Gibraltarian way of life and the territory's business-model will be a European bargaining chip in the talks.

"And I am absolutely certain our current prime minister will show the same resolve in Gibraltar". Britain also accused Spanish vessels of a series of "irresponsible" incursions into Gibraltar waters.

The dispute over Gibraltar is a conflict of words, not weapons - a matter of bellicose headlines in Britain and bemusement in Spain.

At a foreign lobby briefing at 10 Downing Street on Monday, one European journalist said she had looked up "jaw jaw" and found a definition that said it was "pointless talk".

However, the former French foreign minister suggested Theresa May's hopes of a quick European Union divorce are unrealistic as he said her desire to carry out exit talks alongside trade arrangements was a "very risky approach". It has been administered by the United Kingdom ever since 1704, and a treaty in 1713 ceded Gibraltar to the United Kingdom "in perpetuity".

Gibraltar's Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, has also weighed in on the heated debate.

Spain, which has persistently claimed sovereignty over Gibraltar, says the EU's clause is reasonable.

The spat over Gibraltar is yet another example of how thorny Brexit talks will be, with battles forming over the size of the bill, how to treat the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland and even on the order of the negotiations themselves.

Another European journalist asked directly "can you rule out war between the United Kingdom and Spain", to which the spokesman replied "Yes, I can rule that out". "Removal of the reference to Gibraltar would be a sign of good faith and good will", he said.

  • Leroy Wright