Weekly Geopolitical Report – Between a Rock and a Hard Place: The Gibraltar Dilemma (April 24, 2017)
by Thomas Wash
Days after Theresa May triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, Brussels issued a nine-page document outlining its guidelines for Brexit negotiations. One of the guidelines gave Spain the authority to veto any deal between Gibraltar and the European Union (EU). The U.K. is currently recognized as holding sovereignty over Gibraltar and thus took exception to this provision, vowing to defend the will of the people of Gibraltar.
The provision is likely the result of heavy lobbying by the Spanish government, who would like to end this 300-year dispute once and for all. A war of words between Spain and the U.K. has already started in response to the announcement. Former Tory leader Michael Howard stated that the U.K. is willing to fight for Gibraltar. Although not responding to the threat, Spain has hinted that it would not block Scotland if it were to apply to the European Union upon a potential Scexit.
Despite the bravado, it is likely that the two countries will come to some sort of agreement as they have deep trade ties. In fact, Spain has been the most vocal backer of a soft Brexit. That being said, the people of Gibraltar are stuck at a crossroads regarding the dispute. On the one hand, they voted 96% to remain in the EU, but on the other hand, they voted 99% against joint sovereignty with Spain. The situation becomes even murkier when its economy is taken into account. Gibraltar is dependent upon the U.K. for trade and Spain for labor. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that Gibraltar would have emerged from Brexit unscathed as its labor force is dependent on the free movement of immigrants permitted under the EU. Ironically, it was the free movement of immigrants that mostly caused British voters to leave the EU.
In this report, we will focus on the significance of Gibraltar, its historical context and the impact of the current dispute. We will conclude with possible market ramifications.
 During the run-up to the Scottish referendum, it was believed that Spain would oppose any immediate transition by Scotland into the EU if it decided to leave the U.K. because it could encourage Catalonia to move toward independence as well.