Spain has no plans to close its border with Gibraltar after Britain leaves the European Union, its foreign minister said in an interview published Sunday.
The tiny British territory on Spain’s southern tip, which is home to some 32,000 people, depends on the small land border with Spain for much of its supplies and visitor flow.
Some 10,000 people also make the crossing to work daily from the Spanish region that surrounds Gibraltar called Campo de Gibraltar, and they fear that Madrid may make things more difficult at the frontier.
“There is no intention to close the border. The idea is that Spaniards who live in the Campo de Gibraltar and who work in Gibraltar continue to do so,” Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said in an interview published in daily newspaper El Pais.
Spanish dictator Francisco Franco closed the border with Gibraltar outright in 1969. Free travel between the two sides was only fully restored in 1985, ten years after his death.
Madrid’s decision to relax its laws on the border was seen as part of its bid to gain support to enter the European Community, the precursor to the EU, which it achieved in 1986.
The territory has been under British-rule since 1713, when it was ceded in perpetuity under the Treaty of Utrecht following the War of the Spanish Succession.
A Union Jack flag (L), the flag of Gibraltar (C) and the European Union flag fly in Gibraltar on March 28, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Spain has long tried to reclaim Gibraltar. After Britain voted last year to leave the EU, Madrid proposed shared sovereignty over the territory, arguing this would allow the territory to remain in the bloc.
But Gibraltarians want to stay British, as demonstrated in 2002 when they rejected a referendum on shared sovereignty with Spain.
‘Spain will not block Scotland’s independence’
Spain, at loggerheads with Britain over Gibraltar, appears to be easing its opposition to an independent Scotland in the European Union, saying it would not block such a move at least initially.
The Scottish independence drive — now resuscitated by the prospect of Britain’s departure from the EU — is highly controversial in Spain because of the secessionist movement in Catalonia.
As a result, Madrid has long been seen as an obstacle to an independent Scotland joining the EU after Brexit.
The EU has said that, following Brexit itself, no future EU-Britain pact that affects Gibraltar can be made without Madrid’s approval.
Britain has reacted sharply, saying its support for the territory, ceded by Spain in 1713 and which wants to remain British, is “implacable”.
Dastis refused to talk about veto rights when it comes to Gibraltar but said he viewed the EU’s stance very positively.
A Union Jack flag (Down), the flag of Gibraltar (C) and the European Union flag fly in Gibraltar on March 28, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
“When the United Kingdom leaves the EU, the EU partner is Spain, and in the case of Gibraltar the EU is therefore obliged to take the side of Spain,” he said. “I do not think it’s necessary to talk about vetoes”.
Dastis said that Spain’s stance to not bloc attempts by Scotland to join the EU had nothing to do with Catalonia, where a vehemently pro-independence local administration took power in 2015 and with whom tensions are high.
“In Scotland there was a referendum in accordance with the laws,” he said, referring to the 2104 vote to remain in Britain. “In Spain it cannot be in accordance with the Constitution. They (Scotland and Catalonia) are not comparable cases.”
Catalonia has vowed to hold an official referendum on its potential split from Spain later this year.
Regarding Brexit in general, Dastis said Spain preferred a “soft Brexit” — one in which Britain remained linked through such things as tech single market — though he doubted this would be possible.
However he said Spain wanted to have a close relationship with Britain.
“As close as possible to what we have now. If that is to be defined as Brexit soft I am not uncomfortable with that,” he said.
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