The EU guidelines for negotiating Brexit, tabled on Friday by Donald Tusk, contained a phrase that has given rise to a stir in the UK: “After the UK leaves the Union, no agreement between the EU and the UK United Kingdom shall be applied to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom ‘.
A great goal of Spanish diplomacy to the British, which surprised out of play to Number 10 and ministers Boris Johnson and David Davis, chief negotiator with the EU. The clause gives the right to veto Spain over any future agreement on Gibraltar and has infuriated the right wing of the Conservative Party, which regards the Rock as a patriotic symbol.
Michael Howard, 75, who led the Conservative Party in the two years prior to Cameron’s arrival, has raised the tone of the debate on Sunday with an untimely threat of war to defend Gibraltar, described as ridiculous by the opposition. “35 years ago, another woman prime minister sent a military force to the other side of the world to defend the freedom of another small group of Britons against another Spanish-speaking country. I am absolutely sure that our current prime minister will show the same resolution to defend the people of Gibraltar, “he said in an interview on Sky Television, in a startling comparison with the Falkland War.
His words have been answered by the opposition. The leader of the Liberal Democrat Party, the europeanist Tim Farron, dismissed the threat of absurdity: “In a few days the conservative right is turning long-time allies into potential enemies. In four days the Tories have gone from cheering Brexit to war. All this is absolutely ridiculous”. Tom Watson, the Labor Party’s number two, a moderate against Corbyn, wondered “how do frontline tories encourage the prospect of a war in Europe? I hope this is not the tone the government is going to have in the [Brexit] negotiations “.
Theresa May has been widely criticized by her party’s right wing for not citing Gibraltar in Wednesday’s six-page letter to Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, which triggered EU exit. In an effort to amend his lapse, this Sunday he spoke with the main minister of the Rock, Fabian Picardo. The premier said that “the Government of the United Kingdom will never enter into agreements under which the people of Gibraltar can become under the sovereignty of another State against their wishes, expressed freely and democratically.”
The Gibraltarians were well aware that the Brexit could change over the anomalous situation of the tax haven, so they voted overwhelmingly for permanence (95.9% support to the EU, the largest in a territory of the United Kingdom). Picardo, knowing that things can change, described yesterday in the BBC as “absolutely horrible” the possibility of sharing sovereignty with Spain. “It would be like living in someone else’s land.”