While happy Brexiteers celebrated getting back something they never lost on Friday evening, the reality of the UK leaving the EU was briefly deferred. That did not last long, and by yesterday, the G-Word had come back into view with a vengeance: Gibraltar was going to be one of the obstacles in the way of a trade deal. And while London-centric pundits don’t seem to mind losing Scotland as a result of Brexit, Gib is, well, different.
So when the Guardian’s Sunday stablemate the Observer “learned that the Spanish government has insisted on reference to the Rock in the EU’s opening negotiating position, which will be published in draft form on Monday”, hackles were instantly raised.
What did this mean? “Boris Johnson will be presented with the choice of reaching agreement with the Spaniards about Gibraltar’s future or exposing its citizens to economic peril by pushing it outside any EU-UK trade deal”. Cue Tories and sympathetic historians reaching for a copy of the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht. Could the Spanish do this?
Well, they can now. While the UK was an EU member state, they could not: EU member states do not make claims on one another’s territory. But now the UK is out, two things come into play: One, the Government in Madrid can make a claim on Gibraltar, and Two, the EU will stand by Spain as it does so. Double jeopardy, Meester Bond!
Of course, this possibility was known about before the 2016 referendum, but as with so much else, was dismissed as just another part of “Project Fear”. That has not stopped the screamingly Europhobic part of our free and fearless press going off the end of the pier in no style at all over the though of Rotten Foreigners™ getting their hands on Gibraltar.
The Murdoch Sun has tried to break the news to readers gently: “Boris Johnson is expected to be given a choice of handing the territory over to Spain or having it excluded from any trade agreement between the UK and EU … the European Council’s Article 50 guidelines state the EU cannot come to a deal with the UK over Gibraltar without the approval of the Spanish government”. But others are not so reserved.
Like the Daily Brexit, still called the Express, which howled “How bitter EU will back Spain’s claim to Gibraltar to tarnish Boris’ Brexit negotiations”. But this, as with so much else that the press invents about the mythical EU bogeyman, is bunk. The EU is a rules and procedures based organisation which is applying its rules and procedures.
Moreover, it’s not as if we didn’t know this was going to happen, as an op-ed in Spanish publication El País told in early January. “Spain is taking a firm approach to talks about the future of the British Overseas Territory after Brexit”, adding “Cutting off The Rock would be more problematic to a United Kingdom that is isolated, in a precarious situation, and without any trusted international friends: Donald Trump’s United States is not one”.
The Government knew this would happen. Now it has happened, there can be no complaints, just more whining in the press. And note that while the media establishment is relaxed about the prospect of losing 1.9 million people in Northern Ireland, and 5.4 million in Scotland, the prospect of losing 32,000 in Gibraltar is A Very Serious Matter Indeed.
Which tells you all you need to know about them. I’ll just leave that one there.
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