International Papers

Between the Rock and a Hard Place

After almost 300 years governing the Rock, Britain is eager to relinquish its exclusive sovereignty over Gibraltar, despite most Gibraltarians’ fervent desire to maintain the status quo. Spain ceded the two-and-a-half-square-mile territory to Britain in 1713 but has since restated its claim (for a primer on the history of Gibraltar, see this graphic from the London Times). In recent years, the dispute has blighted the otherwise rosy relationship between Spain and Britain, an alliance that both sides are keen to develop to counteract France and Germany’s traditional domination of the European Union.

On Monday, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and his Spanish counterpart Josep Piqué met in London to discuss a solution to the impasse, and although the announcement of a transition to joint Anglo-Spanish sovereignty over the Rock, which several British weekend papers had predicted with great certainty, was not immediately forthcoming, papers in both countries agreed that solution was all but inevitable. ABC of Spain declared that ultimately there was only one possible solution to the dispute: that Spain would recover sovereignty over Gibraltar “for reasons of historical justice and U.N. resolutions on the decolonization of the Rock.” It concluded, “There is no doubt that in the three centuries this problem has existed, the solution has never been closer.”

According to the Daily Telegraph, on Monday more than 6,000 Gibraltarians (one-fifth of the territory’s population) protested the British authorities’ “sell out,” and although Straw promised residents a referendum on an accord, senior civil servants told reporters that a “No” vote would only suspend and not invalidate an agreement. (The Guardian reported that the last time Gibraltarians considered becoming part of Spain, in 1967, the tally was 44 for and 12,138 against.) The Times responded, “It is not a ‘sell-out.’ … Much has changed since General Franco’s bullying tactics on the border in the 1960s. Spain is now an advanced democracy and often a diplomatic ally of Britain within the European Union.” La Razón said there should be no referendum because the rights of Spain should trump the rights of the residents of a British colony. “That doesn’t mean to say we should ignore the opinions of the “llanitos” [Gibraltarians], but rather offer them solutions that will facilitate their compliance with another state setting, when sovereignty of the Rock at last returns to Spain.”

An op-ed in the Independent declared: “Gibraltar belongs to Spain in the same way that Calais belongs to France, and Bognor Regis to Britain. … [Because Gibraltarians were given the right to veto transfer of sovereignty during Franco’s dictatorship] the interests of 60 million Brits are forever subordinate to those of 27,000 mostly Andalusian-speaking Gibraltarians. In the politics of the Rock, the tail wags the Barbary ape, and guess who is the monkey.” The Independent editorial concluded, “British control of Gibraltar is an increasingly preposterous echo of the imperial past. … Britain and Spain are members of the EU, that for all its faults embodies higher ideals than the lofty imperialism of the 18th and 19th centuries. … There is little sense in two EU countries rowing over sovereignty when much of it is already pooled.”