Gibraltar's status is a bilateral issue and nothing to do with the EU – Spain must not gain a veto from it

Telegraph View

Gibraltar’s relationship with Britain and Europe is complicated to say the least. The territory was ceded in perpetuity to the Crown in 1713 by the Treaty of Utrecht, which ended the War of the Spanish Succession. British sovereignty was confirmed in the Treaty of Seville (1729) and the Treaty of Paris (1783).

Gibraltar’s position at the entrance to the Mediterranean has been of great strategic importance to the United Kingdom for more than 300 years. Today, Gibraltar is part of the EU but not of the UK. It is in the European single market but not in the customs union. It is exempted from the Common Agricultural Policy and is outside the Schengen Area. Its people used to be British Overseas Territories citizens but are now mostly British. And while they voted overwhelmingly last June to remain in the EU, they are bound by the overall UK result to leave.

Spain has long harboured a desire to reclaim the territory, a policy developed under Franco but which remains in place. Periodically, the Spanish have closed the border or imposed strict controls in order to make a point. Yet despite all the complexities bequeathed by history, one simple fact can be easily understood: the Gibraltarians wish to remain British. They have made that clear in two referendums.

The self-determination of peoples is a fundamental principle in international law and enshrined in Article 1 of the UN charter. It is espoused, indeed, by the EU as “an important pillar of the international system”. So it is completely unacceptable for the future of Gibraltar to have been tied into Brexit as it appears to have been in the guidelines drawn up for the forthcoming negotiations. A clause in the draft document effectively gives Spain a veto over the outcome of the talks if Madrid is not satisfied with the arrangements made for Gibraltar.

There is a long-standing issue between the UK and Spain over Gibraltar but this is a bilateral matter and not one for the EU to involve itself in. Spain’s foreign minister yesterday scoffed at the evocation of the Falklands war in 1982 to warn against infringing the UK’s sovereignty, but the principle of self-determination is the same at it was then. At their summit later this month to agree the guidelines for the Brexit talks, the Council of Ministers should insist that this pernicious provision be removed.

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