The U.K. and Spain are fighting over the status of Gibraltar as Brexit negotiations begin.
Gibraltar was ceded to the British in the early 18th century by Spain, but the legality of that treaty has long been disputed by the Spanish, who claim that the territory is theirs. The issue of Gibraltarian sovereignty has been a point of contention between the two countries for a long time, periodically flaring up into heated exchanges.
With the exit from the European Union underway, Spain is making another effort for control over the strategically important peninsula.
Gibraltar shares its only land border with Spain, and relies heavily on the European Union agreements for trade, and movement to the rest of Europe.
Despite this, Gibraltar has expressed it would not be interested in the transfer of power to Spain, which has faced an economic downturn in recent years and has key policy conflicts with the Gibraltarian populace.
Controversy arose when it was revealed that draft E.U. guidelines for negotiations gave Spain a veto on any issue related to Gibraltar, which the British government sees as a method in which Spain could block the negotiations, or force its sovereignty on Gibraltar.
The Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson both spoke out against the news, saying British dedication to Gibraltar remained “steadfast,” and “rock-like,” a reference to Gibraltar’s nickname, “the Rock.”
Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, also denounced the move, likening it to a “cuckolded husband taking it out on the kids,” and calling it “clear Spanish bullying.”
Of these comments, Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said, “The Spanish government is a little surprised by the tone of comments coming out of Britain, a country known for its composure.”
Gibraltar voted in a 2002 referendum 98% against joint British-Spanish sovereignty, but overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the European Union.