Beyond The Pillars Of Hercules – The Gibraltar Conundrum

Together we stand, and together we wait

And there was I, thinking that we were utterly alone in our battle as UK expats, to avoid being cast into oblivion by the forces of evil from both sides of the channel. It now appears that an entire dependency is about to suffer the same fate as we are. Together we stand, and together we wait. However, I don’t think British expats will have to wait as long as the inhabitants of one of the two pillars of Fretum Herculeum. The pillars, which separate the Mediterranean sea from the Atlantic ocean, comprise the Rock of Gibraltar to the north and one of two peaks to the south: Mount Hacho, near Ceuta, a Spanish exclave in Morocco; or Jebel Moussa (Musa), in Morocco. The strait is an important gap, averaging 365 metres in depth in the arc formed by the Atlas Mountains of North Africa on one side, and the high plateau of Spain on the other.

For his tenth labour, Hercules travelled to the Spanish Peninsula, where he had to bring back the cattle of King Geryon, a three-headed monster. To do so, he had to venture beyond the Mediterranean Sea into the Atlantic Ocean. There was only one small problem: the mountain range that joined the continent of Africa and Europe and which sealed off the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean. Hercules decided not to go around the mountain, but through it. He split the mountain into two with one mighty blow from his sword. He then passed through the narrow strait, found Geryon’s cattle and brought it back. The straight of Gibraltar was born.

Forgetting to specifically protect the inhabitants of Gibraltar, Theresa May is, once again, casting doubts over the futures of thousands of British citizens. In the same way, the UK government chose to ignore thousands of British expats, by not scrapping the 15-year rule that denied many expats a vote in the referendum.  Many British citizens work in Gibraltar and live in Spain and numerous Spaniards live in Spain but work in Gibraltar. It seems that the whole economy of the region can be destabilised if no acceptable working agreement is reached between Spain and the UK, identical to that which will presumably be obtained with other EU member states. But away from the economic gibberish coming out from London and Brussels, the fundamental problem is fast resembling a humanitarian one, with thousands of citizens, all over Europe, beginning to ask themselves serious questions about what the future holds for them.This is an unacceptable situation for all concerned.

Gibraltar has always been contested by Spain, ever since the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 ceded the territory to the UK. The inhabitants of Gibraltar rejected proposals for Spanish sovereignty in a 1967 referendum and again in 2002. Under the constitution of 2006, Gibraltar is a self-governing UK dependency, with some powers, such as defence and foreign relations, remaining the responsibility of the UK government. Gibraltar differs from any other overseas territory of an EU member state. When the UK joined the Union, in 1973, Gibraltar was classified as a dependent territory. Although Gibraltar passes its own legislation, including the application of EU directives, their relationships within the EU are the direct responsibility of the UK government. If “Brexit means Brexit” for the UK, then that should also true for Gibraltar. There are, however, certain areas of European policy from which Gibraltar is excluded, including the much beloved Customs Union, and the European free movement of goods rules. Well, who needs free movements of goods when you’ve got high finance, online gambling and tourism as economic drivers. Furthermore, exclusion from the Customs Union, together with access to the free market, enables Gibraltar to offer taxation advantages in many areas, something Theresa May would love to be able to do. Gibraltar is also excluded from the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy, the Common Fisheries Policy, and the Common Commercial Policy. Gibraltar is not part of the Eurozone and or the Schengen Area. All these exceptions make negotiating a deal between Gibraltar and the EU either very easy, or practically impossible.

Some Gibraltarians are angry at the UK and Spain, and rightly so. How could Theresa May not have foreseen that Spain would see the UK’s departure from the EU as an opportunity to have another shot at acquiring some control over an extra bit of land? Unless she doesn’t care, of course. Now, according to the EU guidelines relating to the Brexit negotiations, Gibraltar is at the mercy of a Spanish veto concerning any future relationship between the territory and the EU. In view of the fact that Gibraltar voted with a majority of 96% to remain in the EU, they can feel let down by EU commissioner, Donald Tusk, who has clearly taken Spain’s side. He is, at best,  protecting the interests of Spain; at worst, acting under pressure from the Hispanic government. Both scenarios appear to be equally worrying. Gibraltar’s loyalties are split and the dependency is suffering from an existential crisis, rejecting both Spanish interference and Brexit, equally strongly. Let’s just hope that they, and us, don’t get a splitting headache from the whole dispute.

Clause 22: After the United Kingdom leaves the Union, no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom. –  European Council (Art. 50) (29 April 2017) Draft guidelines following the United Kingdom’s notification under Article 50 TEU


Clause 22: politically astute but morally wrong

Nobody seems to realise that, for whatever reason the EU included such a clause, it is a very astute political move by the EU, even though I condemn it as being morally wrong. It may also be symptomatic of the annoyance regarding Brexit that is prevailing in Brussels. The EU has stayed out of the long standing dispute between the UK and Spain. So why this sudden concern over Spain’s long term interest in Gibraltar? The answer is simple: the EU wants to show above all else that it is united and will stick by “its own”. If the EU and the UK manage to thrash out a deal that is acceptable to both parties, the chances are that it will also be acceptable to Gibraltar. In this case, the fact that Spain clearly wants to profit from the situation with regards to claims over Gibraltar, it would probably veto the deal. However, Spain’s veto might be in vain since, for the veto to be carried, other EU member states must also veto the deal and, together, must represent more than 35% of the EU population. The EU now considers Gibraltar no longer as a special state territory, but as a disputed one that will not be part of the wider discussion if Spain opposes this. In giving Spain unilateral rights to veto any deal concerning Gibraltar, the EU has given Spain much more power over a territory that they have always envied and wanted. In supporting Spain so early in the negotiations, the UK has, in this early stage, to all intents and purposes, been outmanoeuvred by the EU. This is underscored by the reaction of certain politicians in the UK. All we need now, is for France to “dump” its Calais migrants in Kent, and the UK will really know where it stands.

Thirty-five years ago this week, another woman prime minister sent a taskforce halfway across the world to defend the freedom of another small group of British people against another Spanish-speaking country, and I’m absolutely certain that our current prime minister will show the same resolve in standing by the people of Gibraltar. – Lord Howard

Rear-Admiral Parry said that he did not believe current tensions would lead to military conflict. But he dis say “If the Government wants to talk big over Gibraltar, or indeed anywhere else, they have to invest appropriately in the military capacity to back that up.”

If these comments are supposed to be an April fools, it’s in very bad taste. The UK government isn’t going to get very far if it continues with its scaremongering attitude and provocations. Whilst it is quite clear that Spain has no right to question the future status of Gibraltar, whose inhabitants have twice in the past voted against Spanish co-governance, the reaction of certain UK politicians is noting short of irresponsible. The same applies to the government’s remarks on the UK’s level of continued participation in European security. Terrorism concerns us all, as recently underscored by the London attack.

The UK and the EU should maybe be inspired by ancient legends in their conduct during the forthcoming negotiations. Atlantis is such a legend that could well be of use in our troubled times. It is supposed to be a “lost” island subcontinent idealised as an advanced, utopian society holding wisdom that could bring world peace. No one actually knows whether this island actually existed, and where, if it did, it was to be found. For Plato, however, there is no doubt that Atlantis existed.

For the ocean there was at that time navigable; for in front of the mouth which you Greeks call, as you say, ‘the pillars of Heracles’,  there lay an island which was larger than Libya and Asia together.”  – Plato, Timaeus

Atlantis was the most populous, technologically advanced, powerful and prosperous ever seen and “yet inwardly they were filled with an unjust lust for possessions and power” (Plato’s Critias). They wanted more, but their greed for wealth and power would only bring about their destruction. Atlantis was defeated by the Athenians and swept into the sea by earthquakes and floods. Atlantis disappeared, never to be seen again.

It would be madness for Spain to even think about demanding full or partial control over Gibraltar. However, if their specific veto is confirmed, the Spanish government can “go to war” on the economic front, by acting against the low tax rate currently in vigour in the territory, and by enforcing strict border controls. However, even the Spanish can be hurt by policies that are directed against the Gibraltarians. The Campo de Gibraltar is a county in the province of Cádiz, an area that not only comprises the Rock but its locality as well. A report published by the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce concludes that Gibraltar increased the economic output of the Campo de Gibraltar by £554m in 2013, and continues to be a major economic driver in the region, for example accounting for one in four new jobs in the area. It is clear that hampering with trade agreements and free movement will not be of benefit to the mutual interactions between the two economies. Madrid has already hinted at possible exclusion of Gibraltar’s airport from any UK-EU air-traffic deals, if Gibraltar is excluded from a wider UK-EU trade agreement.

We are warned by the Greek heroes and Gods. Economic, political and social fighting between us may cause our downfall, whether we are part of the union or not, and no matter how big and powerful we think we are. The dangers and threats that we have to face up to, we must do so together. These dangers come mainly from outside the union, and not from within. Donald Trump’s refusal to accept the truth concerning global warming, and Islamic fundamentalists’ refusal to see religion for what it is, are two such dangers, together with Vladimir Putin. They are most probably far more important and dangerous than the goings-on between a 6.7km2 British dependency, which has probably no place in the EU anyway, and its Andalusian neighbour.