Spain has repeatedly attempted to take control over the southernmost tip of the Iberic peninsula despite ceding the territory to the United Kingdom over 300 years ago. The Spanish MEP on Sunday suggested Brexit offers a “golden opportunity” for Madrid to reopen negotiations with London over who holds control over Gibraltar. But Chief Minister Fabian Picardo warned Spain to end any attempt to “usurp” British control against the will of local residents.
Speaking to Euronews, Mr Picardo said: “As Spain matures even further in a modern European democracy, she’s got to leave behind the concept she can somehow usurp the sovereignty of Gibraltar on the heads of the people of Gibraltar – without the people of Gibraltar being consulted in that process.”
Gibraltar was taken from the Spanish in 1704 and officially ceded to the British Government under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Support for overseas territory status has remained stable despite Gibraltarians overwhelmingly voting to remain (95 percent) in the European Union during the Brexit referendum of 2016.
Talks between Gibraltar and the EU over their future relationship are scheduled to take place later this month, with Mr Picardo proposing the Rock could seek to stay in the Schengen area to avoid border disruptions once the UK has left the bloc.
The Chief Minister continued: “If people look at other microstates in Europe, they take the benefit of the common travel area with Schengen even if they are not entirely part of the Schengen information system.
“There’s the ability to move fluidly between the territories of the European Union and these microstates.
“Does it make sense for the European Union that the 2.5 square miles, the southernmost tip of Iberia, should not be accessible to European citizens? I don’t think it does.”
But MEP Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo proposed Madrid take the “golden opportunity” of Brexit as a change to rediscuss control over Gibraltar.
Mr Garcia-Margallo said: “We have to immediately negotiate the Gibraltar issue.
“If we miss this historical moment, the likes of which we have not seen since 1713, we will miss a golden opportunity.”
The Spanish politician also called for “huge investment” in the commuter area of Campo de Gibraltar to stop intense back and forth travel between the Spanish region and the Rock.
He added: “The truth is many people in the Campo de Gibraltar are forced to work on the Rock because they have no opportunities outside of it.
“The solution we have proposed, which is co-sovereignty in foreign defence and immigration, double nationality, a statute of autonomy.
“And above all a special economic regime, would be fantastic and easy and would give people work immediately, connecting the port of Algeciras with the Mediterranean corridor and a new airport.”
In December, Spanish far-right Vox party issued a warning to Gibraltar and said they “will fight” to reclaim control of the British territory.
Vox saw its seats in the Spanish parliament more than double, from 24 to 52 seats, after the country’s latest national election.
The far-right party has often hurled insults at the country, located on Spain’s south coast, specifically targeting Mr Picardo.