Spain angers UK with Gibraltar comment

Spain angers UK with Gibraltar comment

The word “colony” has been used at Spain’s insistence about Gibraltar (pictured) in an otherwise unremarkable EU document on proposed legislation for visa-free travel.

“Gibraltar is a colony of the British crown”, said the document, angering the British embassy in Brussels.

Sir Tim Barrow, London’s permanent representative with the EU, lodged an official protest at the “completely inappropriate” language as Spain seeks Europe-wide support for its claim to the territory.

Britain’s protest letter said: “The United Kingdom reiterates the certainty of its sovereignty and rejects the characterisation of Gibraltar as a colony. This political stance has been freely agreed by the people of Gibraltar. We regret that our approach to develop more appropriate language was not reciprocated.”

Britain insists Gibraltar’s sovereignty was ceded under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 and its residents have twice voted for British rule in referendums. Gibraltarians also voted 96 per cent in favour of remain in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

In 1983, along with all other crown colonies, Gibraltar became a dependent overseas territory and was relabelled again as a British overseas territory in 2002.

The rock has its own parliament with 17 representatives, and its head of state is Queen Elizabeth.

The Committee of Permanent Representatives, an influential decision-making body of Brussels ambassadors, agreed on a line in visa legislation.

“Gibraltar is a colony of the British Crown,” the proposal said. “There is a controversy between Spain and the UK concerning the sovereignty over Gibraltar, a territory for which a solution has to be reached in light of the resolutions and decisions of the general assembly of the United Nations.”

Madrid said Gibraltar’s population was settled by the British after the Spanish inhabitants left after 1704. It wants joint sovereignty, despite holding two similar enclaves – Ceuta and Melilla – one of which is visible from Gibraltar on the Moroccan coast.

The contentious footnote might reignite a point of friction in the troubled Brexit negotiations and highlights the dangers of reopening the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

Pro-Brexit MPs want the agreement renegotiated, allowing Spain to reopen the rocky issue while other countries can return to other sensitive issues, like fishing rights.

The Conservative MEP Daniel Dalton accused the Spanish Socialist government of treating Gibraltar “as a political football”. “To read that EU officials have made the same mistake is at best insensitive, if not breathtakingly incompetent,” the UK parliamentarian said.

Dr Tanzil Chowdhury of Queen Mary’s school of law said the claim that Gibraltar is a colony “has weight, given the UK parliament and crown still retain unlimited powers to legislate for the rock and that it has been listed by the UN as a non-self-governing territory since 1946”

“However, as Gibraltar has a high level of self-government and GDP, flourishing tourism and gambling sectors and is conventionally a party to its own trade deals, the picture is more intricate,” the scholar said. “Indeed, whilst others may reasonably label it as a colony, the Gibraltarians have voted to remain under UK sovereignty.”

Gibraltar. Picture credit: Wikimedia

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