The UK’s conflict with Spain over Gibraltar points to a chaotic Brexit process
THE UK’s Brexit minister David Davis is flying to Madrid in a bid to calm tensions between Spain and the UK after a weekend which has seen the relationship between the UK and Spain upended by Brexit.
The status of the tiny British enclave of Gibraltar and the country’s relationship with Scotland led to talk of military conflict by former leading Conservatives in the UK.
The fallout may also have profound implications for the case for Scottish independence, as Spain has indicated it will not block Scottish EU membership.
CommonSpace looks at the three ways Brexit has flipped the UK’s relationship with Spain.
1. The end of supposed Spanish hostility to EU membership
During the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum, the claim that Spain, under conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, would block an independent Scotland from joining the EU – adding to the supposed ‘uncertainty’ with Scottish Independence, was deployed repeatedly by the No campaign.
Spain does not want to encourage independence movements, or the ability of break-away nations to join the EU, as the country harbours small nations with ambitions for independence, including Catalonia, in the wealthy north-east of the Spanish peninsula.
Today, under the same leadership, Spain is saying that it will not veto Scottish membership, though the Spanish Government is maintaining it is still opposed to Scottish independence and that Scotland would have to re-join the EU – a potentially long and complicated process.
It’s not the end of the independence causes’ EU complications, but it’s the end of one major counter argument to Scottish independence.
The European council, made up of EU member states, has said it will not waver from its position that Gibraltar, the tiny British-controlled peninsula off the south of Spain, may only enter into a future trade deal between London and Brussels at Spain’s say so.
The UK is pursuing a trade deal with the EU in place of its current membership of the single market, which it is leaving as part the Tory’s hard Brexit.
Gibraltar, a small town clustered around the base of large rock formation, is a long-term contention between the UK and Spain, and currently operates as a tax haven and holiday resort. Spain has been lobbying the 26 remaining EU states over the issue of Gibraltar’s trading status.
Davis is hurrying to speak with the Spanish Government to de-escalate a row which has broken out following the revelations over trade status last week.
3. Tories at war
The Gibraltar issue shocked Tory figures when it was unveiled. Former Conservative leader Michael Howard evoked the UK’s war with Argentina over the Falklands, arguing that Prime Minister Theresa May would not hesitate to take similarly tough action against “another Spanish-speaking country” over Gibraltar.
The UK Government has refused to distance itself from his remarks and warned that the UK would “never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state”.
Gibraltar Former senior minister under Margaret Thatcher Norman Tebbitt has also warned that the UK could support Catalonia’s claims to independence over the growing row.
Davis’s hurried trip to pour water over the issue may show that heated words have outstripped reality. However, the UK will have to deal with the interests and demands of 27 nations along with the EU, and the spat with Spain points to how complex and difficult the Brexit process may become.
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