In the latest ratcheting up of tensions over Gibraltar, the Royal Navy has ordered a Spanish warship out of the peninsula’s disputed territorial waters. Though the incident was relatively minor, it highlighted the conundrum facing Gibraltar after the triggering of article 50. Then again, the status quo was never satisfactory, even pre-Brexit. This is an issue which, as Europe minister, I tried to resolve 15 years ago.
The privileged VAT-free status of “the rock” outside the European customs union but inside the single market has long been anathema to Spain, which has repeatedly alleged smuggling and money laundering.
Spain resents the loss of territory nearly 2,000 miles from Britain and physically connected by an isthmus to its mainland. How, Spain asks, would Britain feel if the war of the Spanish succession 300 years ago had gone the other way and, under the Treaty of Utrecht, it had instead grabbed the Isle of Wight? Britain would surely have had an equivalent claim to sovereignty.
Yet today’s Gibraltarians have rights too. Their historic predicament is not their fault, and successive British governments have honoured Harold Wilson’s 1969 pledge to grant them a vote on their future.
Attempting to resolve this intractable dispute as Europe minister in 2001-02, I negotiated on a “co-sovereignty” deal with Spain – steadfastly supported by Prime Minister Tony Blair and the foreign secretary, Jack Straw. It was finally agreed after nine months of negotiations, and it remains on file in the foreign offices of both London and Madrid.
Actually, it was the then chief minister of Gibraltar, Peter Caruana, who first suggested I look at Andorra’s status, essentially one of co-sovereignty between Spain and…
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