Sharp response to King Felipe's call for Gibraltar to be returned to Spain
Spain’s King Felipe VI caused controversy on Tuesday when he waded into the sovereignty debate and told the United Nations General Assembly in New York that it was “time to end the colonial anachronism of Gibraltar with an agreed solution between both countries (referring to Spain and the UK) to restore the territorial integrity of Spain and bring benefits for the people of Gibraltar and the Spanish area of Campo de Gibraltar.”
Eyebrows were raised among the Spanish media at this unusual intervention by a monarch into the sensitive political matter of sovereignty of Gibraltar, and the government of the Rock was quick to respond, reiterating its message that Gibraltar is British because that is what its people want, and they have the right to self-determination.
“The days when territories could be handed over from one monarch to another regardless of the wishes of the people who live there ended a very long time ago,” said the statement issued by the Gibraltar government. “This is not 1704, when Britain conquered Gibraltar, or 1713 when Spain ceded it by Treaty forever. This is 2016 when what matters most is the right of a people, however small, to determine their own future. It is regrettable that the mentality in official circles in Spain remains stuck in the eighteenth century. Madrid has still not come to terms with having lost Gibraltar over three hundred years ago. It’s time they realised that they are never going to get it back - and never means never!”
There are suspicions among many people in Gibraltar that José Manuel García-Margallo, Spain’s acting foreign minister, had written the king’s speech or had at least had considerable input into its content. Since the date of the EU referendum he has lost little opportunity to insist that sovereignty of the Rock should be on the table, and that Brexit would be an ideal opportunity for Spain and the UK to agree joint sovereignty of Gibraltar for a limited period, because this would enable it to have continued access to the EU single market, before becoming integrated into Spain. He has also been attributed with threats to close the border between Spain and Gibraltar after Brexit if the UK does not agree.
There was also anger on the Rock at King Felipe’s reference to Gibraltar as a “colonial anachronism”. The government of Gibraltar has been trying for years to have it removed from the UN Committee of 24’s list of ‘Non-Self-Governing Territories’, as they are now known, but comes up against an obstacle every year when Spain refuses to concede that the people of Gibraltar have the right to self-determination source surinenglish