GIBRALTAR has become the centre of attention in this week’s Brexit developments.
The sunny outpost, attached to southern Spain, is a British Overseas Territory and is usually associated with tourism and holidays.
And in the past couple of years, Scotland’s national football team have played Gibraltar in Euro qualifiers, as well as Brendan Rodgers managing his first competitive game with Celtic in a 1-0 defeat to the Rock’s Lincoln Red Imps.
But now it’s in the news for a completely different reason, with the UK’s Brexit negotiations increasing tension between Britain and Spain over ownership of the state.
In the UK, former Tory leader Michael Howard’s claims that Britain would be prepared to go to war with Spain over the state, as Margaret Thatcher did over the Falklands, have stirred up a lot of headlines in the past few days
And today, a Spanish naval vessel was ordered to leave British territorial waters off Gibraltar.
The patrol boat Infanta Cristina was told to exit the area by the Royal Navy unit stationed there.
A spokeswoman for the government of Gibraltar told the Press Association: “The ship entered British/Gibraltarian territorial waters. It was met by the Gibraltar Squadron and invited to leave.”
The spokeswoman was unable to say if Gibraltar would make a formal protest to Spain over the incident.
Here’s all you need to know about the situation so far.
What is Gibraltar?
However, it is actually part of a peninsula at the southern tip of Spain, sharing a land border with the EU member state.
It is a British Overseas Territory, and has been under British control since 1713.
This means that 30,000 Gibraltarians who live there have full British citizenship.
The Queen is Gibraltar’s head of state, but it’s a self-governing democracy.
Gibraltar has an elected parliament consisting of just 17 representatives. The legislature consists of 10 members of government, and seven members in opposition.
The Rock is littered with British pubs, chip shops and UK supermarkets Morrisons and Marks and Spencer have outlets there.
How did it become a British territory?
European countries were given some Spanish territories in compensation for the French victory, and Britain was given Gibraltar.
The dispute with Spain
Britain says that as Gibraltar was ceded by Spain in the 1713 treaty, and in the absence of any law since then to return it to them, Gibraltar remains British.
Spain says Gibraltar was taken in the context of a dynastic war. It also cites the UN principle of territorial integrity, which states: “Any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
What do Gibraltarians think?
Brexit and Gibraltar
Brexit promises to confuse the debate on Gibraltar – draft EU negotiating guidelines published last week suggested that Spain would have veto over Gibraltar’s participation in a Brexit deal.
However, the UK maintains that they will not give up sovereignty of the Rock until the people of Gibraltar consent to it, which is unlikely.
Today’s Spanish naval incursion follows the country’s foreign minister Alfonso Dastis telling the UK to calm down after former Tory leader Lord Howard suggested Prime Minister Theresa May might be ready to go to war to keep Gibraltar British.
Tensions increased after an EU document suggested that Spain would be given a veto on post-Brexit agreements governing the British overseas territory.
This prompted Lord Howard to say he believed Mrs May would defend the Rock as Margaret Thatcher did the Falklands.
While the EU Brexit negotiating guidelines released by European Council president Donald Tusk last week made no reference to Spain’s claim of sovereignty over Gibraltar, the decision to give Madrid a key role in deciding if a trade deal will apply to the Rock caused deep unease in Whitehall.
Link to Scottish independence
The notion that Gibraltar could see a different Brexit deal to the UK would seem to suggest that the same could be possible for Scotland.
The SNP have been seeking a separate deal after the majority of Scots voters favoured a remain vote in last year’s referendum.
Further complicating matters is the possibility of an independent Scotland joining the EU.
Earlier this week, Scottish Lib Dems leader Willie Rennie warned: “The response from the European Union has shown the influence Spain is going to have in negotiations.
“The situation with Gibraltar is a taste of how an independent Scotland would be treated in any negotiations.
“For the SNP to believe Spain will bend over backwards and just wave Scotland into full EU or EFTA membership is delusional.
“The Gibraltar situation should be a hard lesson for the SNP that Spain will look after their own interest.
“That means making sure nothing aids Catalonia’s bid for independence.”
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