current affairs

Why the UK needs to stand firm over Gibraltar

The past fortnight has seen increasing tensions between Spain and the United Kingdom over the territory of Gibraltar located at the opening of the Mediterranean, as Spanish authorities have been ac

The past fortnight has seen increasing tensions between Spain and the United Kingdom over the territory of Gibraltar located at the opening of the Mediterranean, as Spanish authorities have been accused of repeatedly and purposely delaying people through border checks from entering and exiting Gibraltar and threatening to now introduce a fee to cross the border point.

Gibraltar has been under British control since 1713 with the Treaty of Utrecht and was listed as Crown Colony by the United Nations in 1946 after which a referendum was held in 1967, in which the residents of the rock voted overwhelmingly to stay under British sovereignty. The Gibraltar Constitution order was issued two years later which led to the self-governing of the territory, while any elected body was still held accountable to the British Government. 


This move by the British, led to criticism from the United Nations but more importantly resulted in the border between Spain and Gibraltar being closed until 1985, when they entered the European Union, yet tensions have remained ever since. 

This isn’t a case of simply who is right and wrong; for both UK and Spain feel that they have substantial claims to the territory all to a certain extent backed up by United Nation principles. The Spaniards believe that Britain’s control of the town threatens Spanish unity and claim that this violates the UN principle of ‘territorial integrity’ and argue that this should take precedence over any right to self-determination.

The UK, similar to the situation with the Falkland Islands, argue that they have given the people of Gibraltar the right to choose their own fate: first in 1967 (12,138 of the 12,237 voters chose to stay with the UK) and in 2002 when a proposal of shared sovereignty between Spain and the UK was flatly rejected by the residents of Gibraltar. Those residents argue that they were given self-determination by the UK and that the UN Charter projects the right of self-determination to all colonial territories.

Big issue for a small place

Yet this isn’t just about making Spain that little bit larger, after all Gibraltar is only 2.6sq miles (London is 606sq miles) and is tiny and insignificant in terms of size but its location is strategically important to both sides.  Its location means it has access and control to one of the world’s most important shipping routes for commercial business, oil and military shipping, couple this with the UK naval base which is also positioned on the territory then it’s easy to see why Spain may be envious while PM David Cameron is eager to maintain the status quo.

However, the underlying tension for many seems to be fishing, with both the Spanish and the fishermen of Gibraltar accusing each other of interfering with their trade, the construction of an artificial reef by the Gibraltar authorities in July 2013 was the catalyst for this summer’s tensions.

The solution?

So is this heightened tension just a flash in the pan, made to look to worse by media outlets looking for a juicy story? Or used by Westminster to distract us from domestic problems?  One thing is for sure, tensions are set to rise as Spain looking increasingly likely to go through with their plan of introducing a 50 euro crossing charge and with the arrival of a British warship HMS Westminster to the Gibraltar shores – although a planned trip – things are set to get worse before they get better. There is little chance of military action occurring from either side but the arrival of the warship will certainly not douse the feelings between Spain and Britain but will remind the Spanish government of the superior naval strength of the British. 

Downing Street has stated that it is now considering legal action against Spain through the EU over the border controls and with the Spanish adamant that the checks are essential in the battle against drug smugglers – the row is set to continue. 

However the decision to take Spain to court with the EU may be countered by a similar move by the Spanish who may seek to a United Nations resolution over the dispute where they would undoubtedly receive support of Argentina, who fought a similar battle over territory with the UK earlier this year.

David Cameron, despite all his flaw as Prime Minster is handling the situation well, maintaining that Britain ‘will always stand up for the people of Gibraltar’ – similar to the Falkland Islands – these citizens are British citizens, accustomed to British ways of life and with the most important underlying factor: democracy.  The citizens of Gibraltar, like the Falklands have been told that until they ask to be free of British sovereignty that Westminster will continue to back and protect them, while Spain and Argentina seem to view the demands of these people as irrelevant.

Britain needs to stand firm on Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands, not just for territory but for the principle of democracy.

What do you think is the solution to the tensions over Gibraltar? What is the best way forward? Have your say in the comments section below, on Facebook or on Twitter.