Brexit could threaten Gibraltar’s future as a British overseas territory, as the EU has said it would give Spain a veto on how any deal would apply to the territory.
Known as “the rock”, Gibraltar is home to 30,000 people. Though it is off southern Spain, it has been British for more than 300 years, and arguments over its status have caused tensions between the two countries.
The residents, who are British citizens, voted 96% Remain in the June referendum.
In its opening negotiating position on Brexit, the EU has said whatever deal is negotiated, it will not apply to Gibraltar without Spain’s agreement.
The document, sent out by European Council president Donald Tusk to the other 27 EU states, said: “After the UK leaves the union, no agreement between the EU and the UK may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without agreement between Spain and the UK.”
Spain has long pressed a territorial claim to Gibraltar, seeking at least joint sovereignty with Britain over i.t
“The union will stick up for its members, and that means Spain now,” a senior EU official told The Guardian.
Fabian Picardo, Gibraltar’s chief minister, called this “unnesessary, unjustified and unacceptable”.
He said: “[This] was the predictable machination of Spain that the people of Gibraltar foresaw and one of the reasons why we voted so massively to remain in the EU.
“This is a disgraceful attempt by Spain to manipulate the European council for its own, narrow political interests. Brexit is already complicated enough without Spain trying to complicate it further.”
An EU source told the BBC that Spanish diplomats lobbied to have a veto on Gibraltar’s post-Brexit relationship with the EU.
Tory MP Bob Neill tweeted that there would be “no sell out” by the British Government.
Spanish politicians picked up on the fact that Theresa May’s Article 50 letter, which triggered the two-year Brexit process, did not mention Gibraltar, while it did mention the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Esteban González Pons, the vice-chairman of the European People’s Party, told Spain’s El Pais newspaper this omission was “very relevant”, adding: “Gibraltar isn’t part of the United Kingdom. It’s a colony like the island of St Helena.”
Spain has sought to increase its influence over Gibraltar and the idea of Britain and Spain sharing sovereignty has been rejected at the ballot box.
In 2002, 99% of them voted against Spain and Britain sharing sovereignty.
Thousands commute between Gibraltar and Spain every day, making open borders a crucial issue of the rock’s politics.
Speaking in Parliament on Wednesday, Theresa May said: “We have been firm in our commitment never to enter arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their wishes, nor to enter into a process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content.”