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Gibraltar Became the EU’s Sore Tooth

Negotiations on the withdrawal of Great Britain from the , which haven’t really started yet, have literally stumbled over a rock. The issue is Gibraltar, a tiny overseas territory of the United Kingdom with an area of 6.5 square kilometers in the south of the Iberian Peninsula. The military and geopolitical significance of this piece of land, however, is priceless. The state that controls Gibraltar controls the narrow Strait of Gibraltar, that is, owns a "golden key" from the gate between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic.

Gibraltar Became the EU’s Sore Tooth
Фото: Вести.RuВести.Ru

For 300 years, the UK’s right to Gibraltar has been disputed by Spain. And now, the European Union represented by the European Council President joined the struggle for Gibraltar. Last week, he sent out a draft of the negotiation strategy for Brexit to the leaders of the 27 EU countries, in which it was said that "no agreement between Britain and the EU can be applied in the territory of Gibraltar without a separate agreements between Spain and Britain". London couldn’t imagine a more unsuccessful start of the negotiations on Brexit.

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The situation became even more acute on Tuesday when the Spanish patrol ship Infanta Cristina entered the territorial waters of Gibraltar. The British took this as a provocation. Alexander Khabarov tried to understand the history of the newly bursted territorial dispute and its prospects. On the map of Europe, Gibraltar looks negligibly small. It’s territory is only 6.7 square kilometers. But for the European Union, this rock today is like a sore tooth. It’s the subject of a fierce dispute between Britain and Spain. What is it? The Rock, as they call it in London, or El Penon, as the Spaniards say?

The United Kingdom conquered Gibraltar in the early 18th century. Under the terms of the peace treaty concluded in Dutch Utrecht in 1713, the Spanish crown ceded it to the crown of the Great Britain. For more than 300 years, London has maintained this strategic position as its territory. The Strait of Gibraltar is the sea gate that connects Europe with Asia and the Middle East. It’s only 24 kilometers away from the opposing African coast. The one who controls Gibraltar controls the whole strait. The cannons here completely cover it with their firepower.

For all three centuries, Spain has been longing to get Gibraltar back. Repeatedly the Spaniards have tried to take it by force. They didn’t manage to. The topic of this disputed territory is constantly being raised by Madrid at the UN. The creation of the European Union somehow smoothed out this conflict. But Brexit changes everything again. President of the European Council Donald Tusk was the first one to pull the trigger, when he stated that the fate of Gibraltar couldn't be determined without the consent of the Spanish government. London immediately threatened Madrid with a war.

The former leader of the ruling , Lord Michael Howard, compared Gibraltar with the Falkland Islands, which Britain didn’t allow to be conquered by Argentina in 1982. It’s an amazing coincidence, but 35 years ago a female prime minister had already sent soldiers to protect the British subjects who were then threatened by another Hispanic state. And I'm sure that Theresa May has as much determination as her predecessor to take care of the interests of the inhabitants of Gibraltar. For Great Britain, Gibraltar is an overseas territory. This crafty status was invented when the British empire disintegrated, but London struggled to save at least some of its territories around the world.

And today, it’s a miniature model of England, which tore off a piece from the popular Spanish coast of Costa Del Sol. English telephone booths. Classic mailboxes dating back to the times of the British monarch George V. President of the local "Manchester United" fan club Clive Moberly is confident that Gibraltar will forever remain part of the UK, no matter what. Never will the Spanish flag fly over our rock. And I am convinced that neither my grandchildren nor the children of my grandchildren will allow this. Today, Gibraltar feels something like a free city under the protection of the British crown. Quality of life is high. Offshore banking business is prospering. Shipping companies leave huge amounts of money. The population is a little over 30 thousand people.

At the same time, there is a parliament, formally independent from Westminster. And in this institution, of course, they are trying to copy the good old England in everything. This rod is a symbol of power. There is exactly the same one in the . In our chamber, there are 17 deputies. The ruling party has a majority, ten mandates, and it forms the government. The Parliament adopts all the necessary laws for Gibraltar. Everything except defense and foreign policy.

During parliamentary sessions, Gibraltar deputies communicate with each other in the local language, Llanito. It is a mixture of English and Spanish with some elements of Italian, Portuguese and Arabic. Gibraltarians say that Llanito is good for arguing, but English is not just an official language, it's a language of discipline and order. Even those who live in England believe that we are more British than they are. We're proud of our citizenship and will never give it up. Like many Gibraltarians, Tito Vallejo is a child born in a mixed marriage. His father is a Spaniard, his mother is an Englishwoman.

But when in 1970, the war for Gibraltar almost begun between London and Madrid, he didn’t have a slightest doubt on which side he should be. I was 21 when the Spaniards completely blocked the border and threatened to take Gibraltar. They concentrated a large number of tanks here. I was in the army back then, serving in the Scottish regiment. We were fully armed and equipped just waiting for their attack to start. To help us, London dispatched a rapid reaction force. The warships came here. They had special forces and combat helicopters on board. The city was filled with military men.

Seeing this power, the Spaniards retreated. And now we say the same thing. If you want to take Gibraltar away from us, we will fight for it. Until the last bullet. If the United Kingdom is really ready to fight for the disputed territory with its partner, it's that much more strange to hear London talking about who has the right to defend its national interests and where. In 1858, the British government gave the Gibraltarians four cannons. They were Russian cannons, ceased during the Crimean campaign, when England fought against Russia. The cannons are everywhere here. And in the territorial dispute with Madrid, artillery is still an argument.

Spain claims that in the XVIII century Britain received only a zone inside the city fortifications. London insists that it conquered the territory at a distance of two cannon shots. While the cannonry isn’t heard, the participants in the dispute are separated by a runway. The airport was built by the British in 1938 during the civil war in Spain. Despite the passport control and customs clearance, Madrid doesn’t officially recognize this border, calling it “la verja” which means "fence". But as soon as London began talking about the possible use of force to defend its right to Gibraltar, the Spaniards tightened the border regime here.

On a single checkpoint, kilometer-long lines were formed. Spain uses the border as an instrument of pressure only because it wants the Gibraltarians to become its subjects. But this is completely unacceptable. Moreover, such actions are ruining the lives of 12,000 Spaniards who come here every day to work. But no matter what they say in Gibraltar and London, without the settlement of the conflict with Spain, the normal existence of this territory is impossible.

The locals firmly stood for United Europe. At the referendum last year, 96% of Gibraltarians voted against withdrawal from the European Union. But now, they are the hostages of Brexit. Signs of concern are also expressed by a small Russian-speaking diaspora. About 400 immigrants from the former Soviet Union settled in Gibraltar. What's next? We'll be between hay and grass, not a territory and not a colony, in a conflict but not in a conflict. What will happen? In London they say that Gibraltarians should decide their own destiny. But even the compromise proposal on the joint management of this territory made by Spain and the United Kingdom in the referendum in 2002 was rejected by 98% of those who voted. Gibraltar is sometimes called the "rock of monkeys". These primates were brought here by the British.

And according to the legend, as soon as they disappear, the English will leave here. During the Second World War, superstitious Winston Churchill, fearing that they could disappear, ordered to bring additional several dozens of macaques to the rock. The Spanish dictator Franco, by the way, stopped his attempts to occupy the disputed territory, although Hitler insisted on it. Apparently, he was waiting to see who would win. Today, they are also waiting in Madrid but not for the end of the war, but for the beginning of negotiations that London is to conduct with the European Union.