After Brexit, a small British territory on the southern tip of Spain has come into the international limelight.
96% of Gibraltar’s 32,000 residents voted in favor of remain, with an 82% electoral turnout. The near unanimous pro-EU sentiment has prompted Spanish politicians to talk about restoring Gibraltar to the EU by means of implementing joint British-Spanish rule.
The conflict reached the point of absurdity when a British politician hinted that the UK would invade Gibraltar if they tried to secede. Oddly enough, the threats lead to touristic interest in Gibraltar has recently tripling.
Gibraltar has a long and rich history dating back to the late middle ages. In 1160, during the Islamic occupation of Spain, Sultan Abd al-Mu’min ordered the construction of a castle to defend the narrow strait between Europe and Africa.
Over time Gibraltar grew into a town, and the castle changed hands several times, passing between various competing factions of Muslims as well as Christian rulers. In 1462, the castle was captured one last time by Henry IV of Castile who crowned himself king of Gibraltar. It would remain in Spanish hands for centuries, during which time the city became a hub for merchants entering and exiting the Mediterranean sea.
In 1704, during the Spanish Succession wars, the town was captured by the combined British and Dutch fleet. Noting the port’s important strategic location, the British decided to turn it into a naval base. British control over the port was codified by the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht. Over the years, the Spanish made several unsuccessful attempts to recapture the city.
Today, the city is a British Overseas Territory, but retains strong separatist tendencies.
One important reason for Gibraltar’s secessionist politics is its geographic isolation from the UK. Gibraltar is nearly 1760 KM away from London.
Gibraltar also remains very culturally distinct from the rest of Spain. Siobhan Fenton, wrote an article for the New Statesman highlighting the cultural differences between Spain and Gibraltar. Despite this, Spain still continues to signal its interest in reclaiming the city. In 2002, a proposal to submit Gibraltar to joint British-Spanish rule was rejected by 98% of the vote.
If Gibraltar becomes an independent city state, separate from both Spain and the UK, it has the potential to become the Singapore of Europe. Like Singapore, Gibraltar is located on the coast of one of the world’s most important straits for international naval trade.
An independant Gibraltar would have the opportunity to remain in the European Union, and take full advantage of its strategically important location. The city could establish itself as a bastion of regulatory competitiveness among the European legislative swamp.
Ultimately, the fate of Gibraltar shouldn’t be decided by the UK, Spain, or the EU. The residents of Gibraltar should democratically decide their future for themselves.