The border as a weapon
The comments of an anonymous Spanish official to The Times yesterday will come as no surprise to anyone who follows Gibraltar news closely.
That a Spanish Government – perhaps, more accurately, a Partido Popular government – would pile on pressure at the border in the event of a Brexit is almost a foregone conclusion.
It may not physically shut the gate, but a stringent tightening of controls could rapidly amount to much the same thing. You do not need to close a border to close a border.
Neither does it really matter who this anonymous Spanish official is. Given the recent public statements from the head of Spanish diplomacy, acting Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo, the words of this faceless bureaucrat have an unfortunate ring of truth to them.
They provide a cautionary message for anyone here in doubt as to which way to vote on June 23. It would be helpful for our friends in the UK to closely analyse the smoke signals from Spain too.
When Spain tightened controls at the border in 2013, it took the intervention of the EU to force Madrid to step back. With the UK outside the EU, as the nameless Spanish official tells The Times, Madrid would no longer have to respect the free movement of labour, capital and goods “which Brussels demands”.
Coupled to García-Margallo waving the joint sovereignty proposal as a solution to Gibraltar’s problems in the event of a Brexit, the picture is pretty clear, and a clampdown at the border would be just one part of that.
Put simply, a PP government would see in a Brexit an opportunity to further Spain’s sovereignty claim over the Rock.
All of this, at this stage, is perhaps somewhat academic.
The dust has yet to settle after Spain’s inconclusive general election, and a change of government is still possible, as is a re-run at the Spanish polls. A government of the left would still maintain Spain’s sovereignty claim over the Rock, but one would hope the PSOE and its partners would favour dialogue and cooperation over confrontation, as was the case when the trilateral forum was in place.
One thing is clear, even if the PP gets back into office and the UK votes to leave: Gibraltar has already rejected a joint sovereignty proposal once and will do so again. Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and Opposition leader Daniel Feetham both left little doubt of that this week.
Gibraltar, with one single voice, has repeated its position on the sovereignty issue many times. Only the Gibraltarians can decide the future of this Rock.
That is a position that is backed by the British Government and was reaffirmed just yesterday, when the Foreign Office stated, once again, that Britain will not even discuss sovereignty without the consent of the Gibraltarians, let alone take any decision on it.
Against that context, it seems incomprehensible that some Spanish politicians continue to rehearse, time and again, the same tired arguments instead of seeking opportunities to work together for mutual benefit.
It is also difficult to understand how, given the thousands of Spanish workers who rely on Gibraltar for their income, any public servant in a modern democratic country – and that includes the Spanish minister – could even contemplate using the border as a political weapon.