Gibraltar Apple of Discord
Only a few days after the start of the negotiations between the EU and the UK, the first stumbling block has already appeared. And that is Gibraltar. In the draft guidelines for the Brexit talks, the EU stated that all decisions affecting Gibraltar would have to be agreed by the Spanish government. That provoked an immediate response from Gibraltar’s chief minister Fabian Picardo who stated that “we want to stay British” and Gibraltarians will not allow to be used as “a bargaining chip”.
Gibraltar, which has been a British sovereign territory since 1713, following the Uthrecht treaty, and became an official colony in 1830, has, since then, been the apple of discord for every Spanish government. However, the 30,000 Gibraltarians have twice rejected changes to their governance with the referendums of 1967 and 2002. Since 2006, Gibraltar has its own constitution and conducts its own internal affairs (including taxes), but some powers such as defense and foreign relations stay within the responsibility of the British government.
Now, with the upcoming separation of Britain from the EU, Gibraltar is once again the object of serious discussions. Theresa May has already stated that she is “committed” to the territory and will not negotiate changing its ownership “against their [people of Gibraltar] freely and democratically expressed wishes”. Still the European Council, whose members are the highest-ranking government representatives from the member-countries, affirmed that the territory can be included in the deal, but only if its run past Spain. To add fuel to the fire the former Conservative leader Michael Howard compared the situation with the Falklands in the 80s and claimed that Theresa May will repeat the actions of her famous predecessor Margaret Thatcher. “Thirty-five years ago this week, another woman prime minister sent a taskforce halfway across the world to defend the freedom of another small group of British people against another Spanish-speaking country, and I’m absolutely certain that our current prime minister will show the same resolve in standing by the people of Gibraltar”, Howard said. His statement wasn’t officially dismissed by the government, but Theresa May confirmed that she had a private conversation with Gibraltar’s chief minister, Fabian Picardo, to reassure him of her support.
Picardo is confident that the EU will listen to the voice of the people and by the end of the month, when the draft of the negotiations has been formally adopted by the European Council—the current “hard” voice for deciding the Gibraltarians fate—the Spanish agreement will calm everyone down. He confirmed his cooperation with Theresa May while she was preparing the article 50 notification letter, although the future of the territory wasn’t mentioned in any of the six pages of the Prime minister’s letter.
But, according to EU diplomats, “Spain are taking this very, very seriously” and “if Theresa May thinks the status of Gibraltar and its border with Spain is of little significance, the EU does not,” suggesting that the territory will turn into one of the main obstacles during the two-year negotiations.
What About Cyprus?
Another place where the Brexit negotiations are followed with intense attention is Cyprus. The island is home to about 65,000 British expats (according to a 2010 survey from the local Institute for Public Policy Research) and two British sovereign bases. Ever since the June referendum result, Britons of the island have been asking the question: What will happen to us?
Well, it seems Cyprus will be an object of milder discussions during the negotiations. In an interview to a local newspaper, the British High Commissioner to Cyprus, Matthew Kidd, stressed that to him it’s highly important the UK government described Brexit as “leaving the EU but not Europe”. Kidd said “now all of us can decide how to continue to project and promote the European values we will continue to share, on the prosperity, and security that we will all want to continue to promote.” He also said he doesn’t expect the status of Britons to change because it’s mainly based on bilateral agreements signed prior to Cyprus becoming an EU member in 2004. “So, we will want to work with Cyprus as part of developing our negotiating positions and because we do believe that the outcome can be and should be one which protects what currently exists which is of value to us and to them,” Kidd stated. According to him, that could be maintained through some kind of “new deep special partnership which doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world” and which will provide protection of the status-quo and reassure the future development.
As for the status of the British military, Matthew Kidd doesn’t expect any changes following the UK’s withdrawal. Currently there are around 3,500 British soldiers who are serving on the island. The majority of them are here with their families who live in different villages spread over a territory of 98 square miles.
Apart from Gibraltar and Cyprus, the UK has another 10 overseas territories where 250,000 British citizens currently live. There were unable to vote in the Brexit referendum but so far, they were allowed to travel freely in the EU. Earlier this year, representatives of all the 10 territories met a junior Brexit minister presenting their priorities for Brexit, including the rights of their citizens to continue traveling and trading freely within the EU. “We want to make sure we’re not forgotten because there’s so much that is on the plate of the UK government,” Michael Dunkley, premier of Bermuda, insisted.