In 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht ceded the Rock of Gibraltar to Britain ‘in perpetuity’. Article X of the treaty renounced all Spanish claims on the peninsula, and established the territory’s legal status as a British Protectorate. For the past 300 years, Gibraltar and its people have stayed steadfast and loyal in their support of the United Kingdom. Gibraltar has served as a stronghold and a haven for the sailors of the Royal Navy. In the darkest hours of the Second World War, almost every Gibraltarian agreed to be evacuated from their homeland, watching as it was turned into a fortress against Fascism. In the years since, they have borne the bullying, cajoling and threats of successive Spanish governments.
Gibraltar is home to 30,000 people, each one of them as much a Briton as if they had been born in Edinburgh or Kent. They have been loyal to this country, and in return they deserve the loyalty of the United Kingdom and its government. As Gibraltar’s history has proved, this Protectorate needs, and deserves, our protection.
And yet, as Britain (and Gibraltar) prepares to go to the polls to decide our country’s future, the sovereignty of Gibraltar risks being turned into another scare story in the Remain campaign’s project fear. It has been argued that, if we vote to leave the European Union, there would be ‘a lot of uncertainty’ surrounding Gibraltar’s future and its status as a British Overseas Territory. It has been implied that during all of the ‘uncertainty’ surrounding the UK’s exit from the EU, Gibraltar would somehow slip through our fingers and be legally reclaimed by the Spanish. Madrid, of course, continues to rattle its sabre, calling for a return of the peninsula, and tacitly supporting the almost daily incursions of Spanish boats into Gibraltar’s waters. Spain’s foreign minister said that, if Britain leaves the EU, then the Spanish would try to regain Gibraltar “the very next day”.
Let me be very clear about this. Gibraltar is, and always will be, under the protection of Britain. We will always protect our citizens, and uphold their right to self-determination. If Gibraltarians continue democratically to reject their absorption into Spain (as they have done twice in the past fifty years), then they will continue to enjoy the military and diplomatic protection of the British Government and the Parliament in Westminster. Tempting as it may be for the Remain campaign, we cannot allow the Spanish to bully and intimidate the people of Gibraltar over the referendum. There are some issues that should not be used as part of the referendum campaign. The sovereignty of Gibraltar is one of them.
Gibraltar has existed as a British Overseas Territory for over 300 years. Of these, fewer than fifty have been spent inside the European Union. There can only be a threat to Gibraltar’s status if the British Government allows there to be a threat. If Spain tries to bring diplomatic pressure to bear, then we must counter it. And if Remain are suggesting that Spain might use military force to capture Gibraltar (a highly unlikely prospect), then it is the Government’s responsibility to deploy our armed forces to defend British citizens. No one has suggested that, in the event of a Brexit, control of the Falklands Islands would default to Argentina. We must not forget that Spain’s membership of the European Union in no way bolsters their claim, and this short-term political construct cannot invalidate a centuries-old treaty.
This referendum is perhaps the ultimate expression of democracy. It is an opportunity for the people of Britain to instruct their government precisely, and to decide directly the course of our country’s future.
Britain should be using the referendum as an opportunity to re-enforce Gibraltarians’ right to self-determination. Members of the government, whatever side of the debate they are on, should send a strong, clear message to the people of Gibraltar and the government of Spain. Gibraltar is British, and so long as her people desire it, Gibraltar will remain so. All Gibraltarians are under the diplomatic and military protection of Her Majesty’s Government. Let no scare story intimidate you, and vote with your convictions on the 23rd.
(Image: Defence Images)