As the Brexit negotiations end, British Prime Minister Theresa May has gained another headache. At the Brexit talks in Brussels recently, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell stated that Spain would not support a Brexit deal that includes Gibraltar in the agreement.
Gibraltar is a tiny peninsula of strategic value at the edge of Spain with a population of around 30,000. Known as one of the two pillars of Hercules, guarding the Atlantic entrance to the Mediterranean, it is of great historical significance. In his famous account, the Greek philosopher Plato placed Atlantis “beyond the Pillars of Hercules.” Eventually, the pillars made it onto the Spanish dollar, known as the “piece of eight” in early America, and the leading hypothesis today is that the two vertical lines in the U.S. dollar sign represent those pillars.
…with Brexit all bets are off.
Gibraltar has been under British rule since 1713, longer than the United States has been an independent country, but Spain has never accepted this and continues to lay claim to the sovereignty of the 2.6-square-mile rock.
Borrell stated that “the negotiations between Britain and the E.U. have a territorial scope that does not include Gibraltar; the negotiations on the future of Gibraltar are separate discussions.”
The people of Gibraltar had a premonition of the troubles that would come with Brexit, and so 96% of them voted to remain in the E.U. As members of the European Union, they were safe from any Spanish territorial claims, but with Brexit all bets are off.
Spain’s intrigue may be innocuous. The Latin nation may simply want to avoid a situation where Britain has a strategic spearhead into the Spanish heartland, a legitimate concern. However, it is no secret that Spain has been drooling over Gibraltar for 300 years, and it is not unthinkable that Spain will use the turmoil of Brexit to expropriate the territory, much like Argentina invaded Britain’s Falkland Islands in 1982.
Then the United Kingdom had the benefit of having Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, lovingly known as the Iron Lady, at the helm. She made Britain great again and acted swiftly to bring the Argentine dictatorship to its knees. No one has tried to mess with the Atlantic island since.
However, May is no Thatcher. May is widely perceived as weak and spineless, both by proponents and opponents of Brexit, unable to defend Britain’s interests. There is no question that under Thatcher’s leadership, Brexit negotiations would have looked very different. Under Thatcher’s rule, with her decisive victory in the Falklands War, Spain would think twice about ruffling feathers on the issue of Gibraltar.
With the defeatist attitude of the current British government, the future is more uncertain. Gibraltar may be up for grabs.
In the ancient legend, Atlantis was swallowed by the ocean. Will Britain be able to defend its 300-year claim to the Pillars of Hercules, or will Spain swallow Gibraltar?