Spain steps up efforts to share control of Gibraltar after Brexit

Gibraltar overwhelmingly voted to stay in the EU, but the UK looks set to stand fast on the sovereignty issue. [Shutterstock]

Spain has submitted a proposal to the UN that would see it share sovereignty over Gibraltar with the UK, as the Iberian nation continues to put its card on the table regarding Brexit. EURACTIV Spain reports.

Although negotiations have still not started, as the British government has still not formally triggered Article 50, Spain has emerged as one of the first countries to outline its positions on the main issues that will affect it as a result of the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

Following Madrid’s call for an agreement that would see the UK cover the healthcare costs of its citizens living in Spain, the issue of Gibraltar has once again reared its head.

“Spain believes that co-sovereignty would be beneficial for everyone involved,” said Spain’s permanent representative to the UN, Román Oyarzun, during a session focused on the theme of decolonisation.

Oyarzun added that the proposal “would solve a lot of problems, both existing and future, which will result from the UK’s decision to leave the European Union”.

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The Spanish government announced in July that it intended to table a number of proposals that would mitigate the impact of the UK’s leave vote on the rocky peninsula.

“Spain has formally invited the United Kingdom to open negotiations so that the provisions of the European Union’s treaties can continue to apply to Gibraltar,” the diplomat continued.

“The non-application of the treaties would lead to a radical change in Gibraltar’s relations with Spain, but overall it would create problems for the Rock itself,” Oyarzun warned.

The ambassador suggested that Spain would seek a joint-sovereignty agreement with the UK, so that Gibraltar could stay in the EU and would continue to enjoy as much self-government as possible, as well as reaping the economic benefits tied to single market access.

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Gibraltarian politicians are campaigning for the UK to stay in the EU in next month’s referendum, but Gibraltar’s First Minister Fabian Picardo said the outcome won’t affect the territory’s relationship to Britain.

The proposal would also enable Gibraltarians to maintain their British citizenship and to apply for Spanish nationality, without foregoing the former.

Oyarzun added that Gibraltar would be an “easy fit” in Spain’s model of autonomous governments.

Other measures would include a separate tax system for Gibraltar that would be compatible with EU law and the dismantling of the fence that divides the rocky outcrop from Spain, which was erected over a hundred years ago by the British.

“Spain and the United Kingdom would be jointly responsible for the defence, foreign affairs, border controls, immigration matters and asylum system,” the ambassador explained.

Madrid’s proposal would “bring an end to a dispute that has lasted for more than 300 years between two countries that, I stress, are good friends and allies,” he concluded.

Reacting to Spain’s raising of the issue at the UN, Oyarzun’s British counterpart, Peter Wilson, insisted that his country would remain unmoved in its commitment to trilateral talks that include Gibraltar and would not entertain calls for bilateral talks, calling them “the most credible, constructive and practical means” to approach the matter.

Wilson added that “The government of the United Kingdom restates its longstanding commitment to the people of Gibraltar that it will not enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another State against their freely and democratically expressed wishes.”

How this statement fits with Gibraltar’s overwhelming wish to remain in the EU is unclear; 96% of its inhabitants voted to remain, with only 800 people voting to leave the bloc. Coupled with the fact that turnout was 84%, it seems likely that the tug of war between London and Madrid will only get messier once the negotiations start.

Live: EU begins to talk life after UK

The negotiations haven’t even started yet, with the now infamous Article 50 yet to be triggered by Theresa May’s government. Things are starting to take shape and the news will come thick and fast. Follow EURACTIV’s live feed for all the latest developments and talking points.

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