Spain and the UK may have been fighting over Gibraltar for ages, but Brexit need not produce a clear winner and loser. Gibraltar wants to keep its ties to the UK without breaking up with the EU.
Brexit offers Spain and the U.K. a chance to decide on a new status for Gibraltar that’s in the mutual interest of all parties, the Elcano Royal Institute, a think tank whose biggest donor is the Spanish government, said.
Gibraltar is for the first time under pressure to urgently resolve doubts over its status in relation to the 27-country bloc, Elcano’s researchers said in a policy paper published Monday. While the Gibraltar issue isn’t a top priority for Spain, the country wants to protect its strong economic relations with U.K., the report said.
“Brexit opens the possibility of renegotiating the actual situation of Gibraltar,” the Elcano analysts said. Current circumstances “open the door to a new status for Gibraltar that is favorable to all involved parties and acceptable to the legitimate interests and aspirations of Spain.”
With a population of 33,000, Gibraltar has remained British since 1713 in defiance of Spanish claims to sovereignty. Even so, Spain and the U.K. enjoy close ties built on investment and tourism while 8,000 Spaniards from an area of southern Spain blighted by high unemployment rely on the land border remaining open to be able to cross into Gibraltar to work.
It is in the mutual interest of both parties to explore ways for Gibraltar to retain a link to the European Union via Spain after the U.K. formally breaks away next year, Elcano said. The institute’s comments don’t necessarily reflect the Spanish government’s position, the report said.
One option could be reaching an agreement which would include the expansion of a special taxation area around Gibraltar or the joint management of the territory’s airport. Spain could decline to insist on raising its flag on the Rock as a way to reduce opposition from Gibraltarians, who overwhelmingly say they want to be part of the EU but not Spanish, the report said.
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Photo credit: A British Airways plane in Gibraltar on July 23, 2007. After years of Spain and the UK fighting over control of Gibraltar, Gibraltar’s status may change because of Brexit. Tony Evans / Flickr