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    A general view shows the Spanish city of La Linea de la Concepcion (rear) and the tarmac of the Gibraltar International Airport (bottom L) while tourists stand on the top of the Rock (R) next to the European Union flag, in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, September 14, 2016

    Gibraltar Dispute a 'New Lever' for EU in Brexit Negotiations - Scholar

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    In the wake of Brexit, the dispute between the UK and Spain has once again blown to the forefront of their mutual agendas, and the EU may seek to use it as a bargaining chip in Brexit negotiations. Radio Sputnik had the opportunity to speak with Marián Arribas-Tomé, a lecturer at the School of Politics at the University of East Anglia.

    Sputnik: Brussels has previously demanded that Britain must come to terms with Spain over the future of Gibraltar. But how feasible is this demand, given that the territorial dispute dates back centuries ago? What could both sides do to resolve the issue?

    Marián Arribas-Tomé: It's an interesting twist for this long story, in the Spanish dispute with the UK. It was an ongoing dispute, although it was very much a local dispute. It has at times been revived, but been kept very quiet compared to all the other events and issues that are much more prominent. However, Brexit has brought this to a new, different kind of perspective. And I think, in a way, it's good because it's something that needs to be really brought thoroughly to the European agenda — after all, Span is part of the European Union. It was not very much on the agenda for any European country until now. So perhaps this is going to help resolve this issue in a way that strikes a compromise for both Spain and Britain. It could be a way to settle this in a way that is more satisfactory for both parties. Both of them will have to make concessions, both the UK and Spain. Spain would ideally want to have Gibraltar back as a Spanish territory, but that is not realistic, I would think. However Britain would like to remain the main party in the government of this territory, but this is now called into question.

    READ MORE: Rocky Road: UK, EU Lock Horns on Fate of Gibraltar Under Brexit

    Sputnik: I know a lot of Brits who are expats living in Spain, in Costa del Sol, which is all nearby, and many of them do their banking, for instance, in Gibraltar, to keep their money in British banks which are located on the territory of Gibraltar. Just from a business point of view, what's that going to mean?

    Marián Arribas-Tomé: One of the reasons I understand they do that is because Gibraltar has a special status, they have very special, different tax rates there. In theory this has been accepted by the UK, this hasn't been a problem, and therefore it is a kind of tax haven, you could say, in the European Union. This is one of the main sources of revenue for the area, and income as well. I would imagine that they would want to hold on to

    that, because it's made a lot of sense up to this point for the economy. I don't think that the people who put in their vast investments or their savings in those banks should worry, because I think it is known that any major changes in the economy for Gibraltar will not create terrible chaos, especially if its special status is somehow going to change. I guess what Gibraltar is worried about partly is in which way business will be affected, and how much things will change, if everything is being completely revisited and shaken by new decisions as a result of Brexit.

    READ MORE: King Felipe Confident Britain and Spain Will Work Out a Deal on Gibraltar

    Sputnik: Is there any significant strategic value to Gibraltar for the UK?

    Marián Arribas-Tomé: Yes, it's definitely, a valuable piece of land in that regard. It's not that the UK has Gibraltar as a base; the military presence has been reduced dramatically in the last few years, so now it's a very small aspect of the role it plays. But still, it's a stronghold to have a place where the UK military could find a port to come to without having to ask for any special requests or permission. Of course it is also a very important shipping port; it's probably the largest bunkering port in Europe. And it has a lot of traffic, which is probably another important source of revenue for the area.

    Sputnik: Do you see the issue of Gibraltar overall spiraling into a conflict, or do you think that they will be able to find a peaceful solution that's good for everybody?

    Marián Arribas-Tomé: Mariano Rajoy, the Prime Minister of Spain, has already made clear statements that they are always seeking to cooperate and to keep having a good relationship with the UK, so I don't think it's in anybody's interest to spiral this into a very problematic issue. It is always a source of "flirtish" tension, so to speak, but I think both parties are aware that that it's in nobody's interest to escalate this in any way. So I think the willingness to strike a good deal for both parties is there.

    READ MORE: Gibraltar Should Keep 'Fluid' Border With Spain After Brexit — Senior Official

    Sputnik: What about Brussels, though? What could Brussels lose or gain from this? Do you think that perhaps Brussels is using this? They are putting quite a bit of pressure on the UK over Gibraltar, and asking that they come to terms with Spain on that issue, but to what extent do you think Brussels really has something to gain from the situation of Gibraltar's status?

    Marián Arribas-Tomé: Well, you could argue that it is a new lever, or opportunity, for the European Union to have in the negotiations. It's another point to the negotiations. I think that even the EU has the opinion that it has as part of the negotiations, because it's helping them to put a bit of pressure on the UK. It's one more thing to be discussed. The wants, of course, to resolve this in the best way possible — not only the Gibraltar topic, but the other topics on the agenda — and this partially, when compared with other issues, could be seen as a minor issue, relatively speaking. So, for the European Union, this additional point in the agenda, in terms of striking a negotiation that is beneficial for the European Union, [places] a bit of pressure on Theresa May to make decisions and move on.

    READ MORE: Gibraltar's Dilemma: What Awaits British Overseas Territory After Brexit?

    The views and opinions expressed by Marián Arribas-Tomé are those of the lecturer and do not necessarily reflect Sputnik's position.

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    territorial dispute, border, Brexit, European Union, Gibraltar, United Kingdom, Spain
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