Gibraltar And Clause 22

  By Mark Montegriffo

By Mark Montegriffo

Today was a day that Gibraltar had been anticipating since the EU referendum result was announced. Not only does the ninety-six percent vote to remain in the European bloc seem to have been rendered null and void in the negotiations, but now it has been officially declared that the Rock is effectively a pawn bound by the whims of Spain and the UK government.

The draft guideline relevant to Gibraltar reads as follows:

  1. 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.

Decades of political development and advancement in diplomatic talks have all been swept under the carpet. The tripartite forum which necessitated that Gibraltar has an integral role in a three-way mutually beneficial dialogue between the Rock, Spain and the UK has now been repudiated. This lock which guaranteed that Gibraltar would not be pushed into anything against the wishes of her people is under immense threat in the face of Article 50 negotiations. Pleas from the Gibraltar Government to include the Rock in financial trade agreements appear to have had no success either as it appears they will encounter opposition from the EU team even at this early stage.

On this day more than any other, it has become painfully obvious that the peninsula is at the mercy of a dysfunctional UK Government and an anachronistic Spanish Government. This is the first time in Gibraltar’s modern political history that we have felt such powerlessness. The region that voted almost unanimously to remain in the EU is now largely a non-entity and a non-issue. Such a non-issue in fact that we are headed, not just for a chaotic Brexit for which we voted against in the clearest terms, but a scenario where our political future is dictated bilaterally without our own voice.

However, many of us saw this coming since the 24th of June. It is a regrettable state of affairs but an air of utter despondence is not conducive to good political strategy. Of course we feel betrayed. A large portion of the electorate in the UK who did not wish for this hard Brexit also feel betrayed. Undoubtedly, our circumstances are different. Remain voters who feel betrayed do so because they feel that Britain is taking a step back. We feel betrayed because our voice has been more or less ignored and we have been plunged by forces beyond our control into an existential crisis, the outcome of which, according to clause 22 of the negotiation draft guidelines, may be pressed on us against our will. But Gibraltar has adapted economically to great success on several past occasions, even with our backs shoved against the wall.

While we are dealing with the aforementioned dysfunctional UK Government and anachronistic Spanish Government, they are both democratic western European nations for whom the cost of committing such an unambiguous wrong like bypassing the will of Gibraltar appears to be too lofty to pay. One can argue that if this were the case then Spain’s rhetoric towards Gibraltar would have changed long ago, but it is important to keep in mind that the right-wing government in Spain still commands a lot of support from nationalists and ultra-conservatives. It would be the highest treason for the European Union and the United Kingdom to pass Gibraltar to Spanish rule by the end of the negotiations, knowing full well the position of the Rock’s people; whom, by the way, will do their utmost to make their position known – even if by another referendum as in 2002 to virtually unanimously decline Blair and Aznar’s joint-sovereignty proposals.

The parties involved must ensure that the post-divorce settlements are fair to Gibraltar but also that the double-lock on Gibraltar sovereignty is not picked. There should be no prospect of using clause 22 to return to a joint-sovereignty initiative. The clause suggests that Spain and the UK must have a final agreement on the subject of Gibraltar, but it must be the case that their standpoint begins with the wishes of Gibraltarians. If this understanding is lacking, the Spanish Government will have to put up with being denied every step of the way. It is with this attitude that we can feel betrayed at Brexit and this week’s circumstances, but also move to defend our interests and adapt to grow despite the mist surrounding the negotiations.

Mark is studying Politics and Philosophy at the University of Manchester.