“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,” said Michael Howard on Sunday on Sky News.
Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, immediately responded to the comments of the former Conservative party leader, saying that “it is unbelievable that within a week of triggering article 50 there are already Conservatives discussing potential wars with our European neighbours. In only a few days the Conservative-right are turning long term allies into potential enemies. I hope this is not a sign of the government’s approach to the long negotiations to come.”
Spanish Foreign minister, Alfonso Dastis, replied from Madrid that “the United Kingdom is a country that is characterised historically for its composure. In this case, the traditional British composure has been notable for its absence.” Dastis, on an interview for El Pais, highlighted the fact that after Brexit, Spain should get the support of the European Union on the Gibraltar matter. “We have spoken to fellow EU members and institutions in the recent weeks and have made clear Spain’s position. When the UK leaves the EU, the member nation of the EU is Spain, and in the case of Gibraltar the EU is therefore obligated to side with Spain,” said the Spanish foreign minister. Dastis added that the Spanish government believes that it should get a veto over any agreements regarding Gibraltar.
Boris Johnson, from Luxemburg where he will be meeting the rest of the EU foreign ministers, commented that “the position of the government is very clear which is that the sovereignty of Gibraltar is unchanged, and is not going to change, and cannot conceivably change without the express support and consent of the people of Gibraltar and the United Kingdom. And that’s not going to change.”.
The question of Gibraltar, which is one the most serious problems for the bilateral relationship between the UK and Spain, was raised again on Friday, when Donald Tusk revealed the way that the EU will negotiate with Britain on Brexit. One of the guidelines (no.22), says that “after the UK leaves the union, no agreement between the UK and the EU may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the UK.” The UK diplomats believe that, this guideline will empower Spain to exclude Gibraltar from any UK-EU transitional single market arrangements or future deals if it’s not satisfied with the status of the territory.
During the previous week, Theresa May triggered article 50 by sending a letter to the president of the European Commission, Donald Tusk, asking to start the negotiations for the UK’s withdrawal from the union. In an extract from the letter, she mentioned that, in case a deal is not achieved, the security ties might get weakened. Some analysts believe that the Gibraltar guideline might be all about the EU retaliating.