Self-determination — the right of nations to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no external compulsion or interference — is a pretty fundamental principle of international law.
It’s the basis on which British sovereignty in the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar is founded. 11 years ago, the people of Gibraltar were asked in a referendum if sovereignty of the territory should be shared between the UK and Spain: 98% said no.
So it’s little surprise that the past weeks’ sabre-rattling by a Spanish government desperate to distract the public from its own internal problems — Spanish border guards deliberately slowing frontier traffic, a threatened toll to cross from Gibraltar to Spain — should have been met by a steadfast response from the UK Government. One of the MEPs for Gibraltar is the Lib Dems’ Sir Graham Watson, who’s issued this statement:
“I am deeply concerned by [these] latest comments, which follow months of harassment of my constituents by the Spanish government. The people of Gibraltar have the clear legal right not to be discriminated against on the basis of where they are from; nor should their freedom of movement be restricted. I have asked the Commission to send observers to monitor the situation at the frontier. I have also raised in Parliament the case of shots being fired by Guardia Civil officers at one of my constituents riding a jet ski of the western beach. The European Commission must remind Madrid of its obligations under EU law. This type of behaviour is something typical of a bygone age.”
His words echo the concerns raised by Liberal International Secretary General Emil Kirjas:
“It seems that the Spanish Partido Popular is a party of bubbles. When it governed Spain under Jose Maria Aznar it created the “housing bubble” that led Spain to an economic collapse. Now under Mariano Rajoy it is creating a “nationalistic bubble” raising conflicts with the fellow inhabitants of the Iberian peninsula in the north and the south. The victims will be again the Spanish citizens, who do not deserve incompetent and corrupt government.”
Once upon a time, Gibraltar was strategically key to the UK, controlling entry to the Mediterranean. That’s no longer the case. The British government is happy enough to cede at least shared sovereignty to Spain, subject to the islanders’ wishes being respected. The irony is that the more Spain pushes the less likely that prospect appears.
* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.