It’s time for Spain to grow up and accept the will of the people of Gibraltar

Does Spain really need another territory that doesn’t want to be Spanish?

The rekindling of the dispute over Gibraltar is a big step backwards after the progress made by Spain’s previous socialist government’s growing acceptance of Gibraltar’s independence.

At a time when Spain faces record unemployment levels, exceeding 25 per cent, it is depressingly unsurprising that the government should opt for an irredentist approach to Gibraltar so as to divert public anger.

I have written previously on how President Kirchner has used the Falklands to try and distract Argentinians from the country’s economic woes. Meanwhile far-right parties in Europe spur on irredentist nationalism. Jobbik advocate a ‘Greater Hungary‘ and Golden Dawn call for the liberation of southern Albania.

A basic reading of 20th century history reminds us how potent a mix economic uncertainty and irredentism can be.

While Spain is far from the extreme fringes of expansionist nationalism, it is nevertheless unfortunate that time and time again the people of Gibraltar are subject to delegitimisation, isolation, and burdens placed on them by Madrid.

For forty years the border with Spain was closed after the fascist dictator, Franco, reasserted Spain’s claims over the Rock. Since then Gibraltarians have had their territory violated by the Spanish air force and navy, challenges placed to their right to vote in EU elections, opposition to joining UEFA , excessive border checks, and now threats to charge a fee for crossing the border and the preventing of flights to Gibraltar from using Spanish airspace.

Gibraltar has been British since the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, a treaty recognised in international law. Even if one questions Britain’s actions in the War of Spanish Succession, bear in mind that southern Spain wasn’t ‘Spanish’ until the Reconquista – a process that led to the forced assimilation and inquisition of the Moorish and Jewish inhabitants.

If it seems hypocritical of Spain to question Gibraltar’s independence on that basis, then how much more inconsistent is it that Spain currently occupies Ceuta and Melilla in Morocco – despite the fact Morocco claims them?

We must respect that the majority of the inhabitants are Spanish and for that reason Spain, rightly, refuses to negotiate their freedom away – but why does Spain continue to insist that the future of Gibraltar does not concern the Gibraltarians and is simply a bilateral issue?

Referendums held in 1967 and 2007 showed 99.64 per cent in favour of British sovereignty and 98.48 per cent against dual sovereignty, respectively. The British government has now refused to negotiate on the future of Gibraltar without the permission of the inhabitants.

In 2000, Gibraltar issued a statement that called for ‘neighbourly relations with Spain’ and, crucially, that ‘Gibraltar is neither Spain’s to claim nor Britain’s to give away’.

The Socialist Labour Party is the governing party of Gibraltar – one of three major parties – none of which advocate any change from the status quo. Spain on the other hand has separatist movements in seven regions, a protracted conflict in the Basque Country and a growing push for independence in Catalonia – with a million taking to the streets calling for secession.

Does Spain really need another territory that doesn’t want to be Spanish?

This year marks 300 years of British rule in Gibraltar – a cause of celebration across the Rock. With this anniversary in mind, it is time for Spain to grow-up and accept the will of the people of Gibraltar.

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