Rabat - As soon as the Brits decided to leave the European Union on June 23, 2016, Spain didn’t lose any time reclaiming sovereignty over the rock of Gibraltar.
Rabat – As soon as the Brits decided to leave the European Union on June 23, 2016, Spain didn’t lose any time reclaiming sovereignty over the rock of Gibraltar.
The day after Britain’s Brexit vote, Spain’s former foreign minister, José Manuel García Margallo, said the outcome had hastened the day when the Spanish flag would fly over the territory.
Gibraltar, a strategic British enclave of just 7 km² at the southwestern tip of Spain, has been living under a cloud of uncertainty since Brexit. The majority of its 30,000 inhabitants voted in favor of remaining in the European Union (EU), while the majority of the British, however, decided to leave.
Since it came under British sovereignty in 1713, the region has always been a point of discord between Spain and the United Kingdom. Faced with the new international situation, Gibraltarians have chosen to stick to the “Union-Jack.”
For his part, Britain’s Foreign Minister, Boris Johnson, has said Britain would maintain “an implacable, marmoreal, rock-solid resistance” to any idea of change in Gibraltar sovereignty, the Guardian reported.
While Madrid expressed its “regrets” at seeing the UK leave the EU, it’s certainly rejoiced for the new political opportunity this decision offers them. The Spanish proposed the idea of a “shared sovereignty,” enabling the enclave to remain in the Union. They made the proposal soon after Brexit but it remains off the agenda.
It cannot be said that things will stay as they are indefinitely. The European Union on Friday presented a “negotiating direction” draft to the 27 EU countries. After Brexit, “no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom will be applicable to the territory of Gibraltar without an agreement between Spain and the United Kingdom.” The statements were part of a document presented Friday in Valletta by European Council President, Donald Tusk.
The leaders of the remaining 27 countries will have to adopt these “guidelines,” possibly amended, at a European summit on April 29 in Brussels.
Madrid formally proposed a shared sovereignty to the United Kingdom in October 2016. This arrangement “would allow Gibraltar to remain in the European Union” after the British exit. This offer had already been submitted in a referendum in 2002 and rejected.
The statements of Jose Margallo may, in turn, reverse the status of Ceuta and Melilla. The two cases are related and whenever the Spanish claims on Gibraltar have been raised, Morocco has recalled the cases of the two cities.
At one time, former Spanish King Juan Carlos told the British Ambassador in Madrid, Sir Richard Parsons, that it was not in the interest of Spain to recover Gibraltar in the near future, because King Hassan II would immediately raise a claim on Ceuta and Melilla.
In 1987, King Hassan II had formally suggested the idea of creating a “mixed Moroccan-Spanish commission” to find a diplomatic solution that would gradually end the occupation of these two cities and neighboring islets. The late king was clear: as soon as the British begin to pack up in Gibraltar, the Spaniards will have to do the same in Ceuta and Melilla.
Symbols of an unfinished decolonization and an attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Morocco, Ceuta and Melilla came under Spanish occupation during 1496 and 1580.
Madrid has always refused to open any discussion about the status of these Moroccan lands. Many observers think the time has come to set the record straight and end the diplomacy of “double standards.”
However, while Gibraltar has the legal benefit of being considered a “non-self-governing territory” by the United Nations, meaning it is subject to decolonization, Ceuta and Melilla are not included on the list of the United Nations non-self-governing territories. For this reason, Spanish officials have dismissed all attempts by the Moroccan government over the past 50 years to open a dialogue on the future of the two enclaves.
Over the past decade, Morocco has decided to put the question of Ceuta on the backburner and focus on the question of Western Sahara. Given the excellent relations between Morocco and Spain and the role Spain plays in the Western Sahara conflict, nothing indicates that the question of Ceuta of Melilla will be put back on the bilateral agenda of the two countries in the near future.
Nevertheless, it remains to be seen what will be Morocco’s reaction in the unlikely scenario that the UK accepts to share its severity over Gibraltar with Spain.