Solving Gibraltar


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Submitted by George Callaghan…

Gibraltar was wrested from Spain in 1704. The Flags of Scotland and England were planted thereupon. The War of Spanish Succession was raging. When the war was concluded with the Peace of Utrecht 1713 the Spanish agreed that the United Kingdom could keep Gibraltar subject to certain provisos. No Jew or Mohammedan was ever to be suffered to settle upon this peninsula. Some clauses of the said treaty deal asiento (with the right to buy and sell African people). Considering the unconscionable content of some of the Treaty of Utrecht some ask whether such a treaty can still be upheld. However, it is quite possible to sever the causes that now cause people to recoil in horror and keep the clauses which are acceptable. Should the United Kingdom ever renounced Gibraltar it is to be handed to Spain. It cannot be sold, granted independence or in any wise entailed away to another entity. Incidentally, the said treaty only grants the British control over certain parts of Gibraltar and not all of the area that the UK now rules.

Many Spanish people would like Gibraltar to be returned to them. As negotiations for a long term settlement of trade issues between the UK and the European Union the Gibraltar question is coming to a head. Madrid may make agreeing to an decent trade deal with the United Kingdom contingent upon major concessions viz-a-vis Gibraltar.

The Spanish case for the restitution of Gibraltar is partly because this land was theirs. Yes, it was Spanish for about 200 years prior to it becoming British. Before the Spanish acquired it through force the Moors had had it for centuries. They in turn had taken it by the sword from the people of Andalucia. Twas ever thus! The United Kingdom has possessed Gibraltar for longer than Spain ever did. Even if the Spaniards do not recognise British sovereignty over Gibraltar there are squatter’s rights. Adverse possession can confer legal ownership.

Gibraltar was acquired by force of arms. This is true of most places. Right of conquest was considered valid until the 20th century. That did not mean that in the 20th century every border was redrawn to undo every conquest. That would be a recipe for chaos. You cannot unscramble and omlette. Spain rules Ceuta and Melilla. These exclaves lie on the northern littoral of Africa. They are adjacent to Morocco and the Moroccans claims these areas. Ceuta and Melilla are visible from Gibraltar. Why is it that these territories rightfully pertain to Spain but Gibraltar cannot be a crown dependency of the United Kingdom? The double standard is plain to see. Spain has held sovereignty over those two African towns for 500 odd years. What is the moral difference between 300 years and 500 years?

Spain recognised that the UK rightful owns Gibraltar. Spain could of course have refused to sign Utrecht if British possession of the peninsula was unacceptable. If you wish to void Utrecht saying it was signed under duress then the war has to continue. That would be ludicrous. Every peace agreement was signed under duress by that rationale. The United Kingdom held more Spanish territory but restored it to Spain pursuant to Utrecht. The UK returned Menorca some decades later.

Spain and the United Kingdom have been allies on many occasions since 1704. Among them are the Peninsular War and UN missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That most Gibraltarians wish to be British is indisputable. In a referendum 99% of them voted to stay British. They pro-Spanish side was allowed to campaign freely. No one has ever said that the referendum was another other than fair.

The United Kingdom should not be haughty on the Gibraltarian issue. London ought to recognise that there is a little merit to the Spanish cause. Therefore, sensitivity and diplomacy are the best way forward.

It is doubtful that there was ever an international dispute when one side was 100% right and they other was 100% wrong. How can the desire of the Gibraltarians to remain a crown dependency be squared with the Spanish aspiration to regain lost land?

The UK ought to make some concessions and show sensitivity. A reasonable and amicable spirited offer ought to be made taking account of Spanish attitudes and the modicum of logic and justice that underlies their case. There are already Spanish signs up in Gibraltar. Many Gibraltarians are of Spanish blood. In many cases they shifted to British loam because of the religious freedom and political freedom that was afforded to them in Gibraltar.

What else could the United Kingdom do to accommodate the Spanish? The UK could pay some money to the Spanish. How about an arrival tax of one pound per person paid to the Spanish in perpetuity? If Spain wishes to interpret that as rent or compensation that would be up to them. Declaring the King of Spain the joint sovereign of Gibraltar it being clearly understood that his government would have no say in Gibraltar might salvage the situation somewhat. Hoisting la sangre y oro beside the Union Flag could also deal with wounded pride. Declaring the Euro to be legal tender alongside the sterling could also help as well as be of practical benefit. Agreeing never to station over a certain number of troops or any nuclear arms would also help perhaps.

Would joint authority or a condominium be out of the question? That might be unworkable. But different options should be examined. The aim is to find solutions and not problems.

At the moment phone calls to Gibraltar have to be routed through the UK not Spain. Spain blocks Gibraltar from participating in any sporting or cultural event. As recently as the 1980s the Spanish closed the border for years. If the United Kingdom were flexible the Spanish might be persuaded to adopt a more reasonable posture.

It would be foolish to adopt a blind, immature and chauvinistic posture. Broadmindedness and generosity of spirt is the only way forward.

It might be that no agreement can be arrived at. In which case long term trade negotiations might be difficult. Spain could up the ante and say it will not agree to a long term trade deal with the UK without receiving Gibraltar outright. The Spanish could block the border at La Linea de Concepcion as they once did for 20 years.

Viva la Amistad!

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.

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