Spain sees just a slim chance of joint sovereignty over Gibraltar if Britain opposes it, its foreign minister said in an interview with the leading Spanish newspaper El Pais on Sunday (8 January).
“I think you have to be realistic, if the United Kingdom does not want to negotiate it will be difficult to carry it forward,” Alfonso Dasits, said in his first interview with a Spanish newspaper since he was appointed minister in November.
Spain, which reappointed Mariano Rajoy as its new conservative prime minister at the end of October, is seeking to jointly govern Gibraltar with the UK following the British vote to leave the European Union.
Although Article 50, launching the Brexit procedure, is yet to be triggered, Gibraltar has already embarked on an effort to convince the EU that the territory needs a special arrangement in the EU-UK divorce deal.
Dastis said, however, that if Gibraltar wanted to have a relationship with the EU, “it would have to be consulted with us. That will require a bilateral agreement between Spain and the United Kingdom.”
The peninsula on Spain’s south coast, a British territory since 1713 known to its 30,000 residents as “the Rock”, is a major point of contention in Anglo-Spanish relations. Spain has long claimed sovereignty over the enclave.
At stake is a thriving services-based economy that relies in large part on access to the EU’s single market, and a sovereignty spat with Spain it believes threatens its only land access to the continent.
Gibraltar’s leader, Fabian Picardo, has warned that Britain leaving the EU would be a “disaster” for the tiny territory.
The British government on Sunday (10 August) accused Spain of violating its sovereignty over Gibraltar, saying Spanish state vessels had repeatedly and unlawfully entered its territorial waters without notifying it.
In 2016, Picardo told AFP he was “concerned that it would mean that our current economic model would not be sustainable”.
Picardo said he was also worried Spain may seize the opportunity to threaten the land border between the two – a long-time flashpoint in the sovereignty row between London and Madrid.
Spain’s dictator Francisco Franco went as far as closing the crossing in 1969, all but stranding inhabitants who had to rely on air and boat links until it was fully re-opened in 1985.