17:19 GMT +323 January 2020
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    Britain views Gibraltar, a small outpost on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, as a “full part of its family”, whereas Spain wants to regain the territory it once owned or govern it jointly with the UK.

    Agustin Rosety, a retired marine corps general and MP for Spain’s conservative Vox party, has launched into a furious online tirade about Gibraltar, saying that Madrid should take over the territory from Britain post-Brexit.

    “Gibraltar is not just a matter of national dignity and pride,” Rosety said in a lengthy Twitter thread. “Gibraltar parasitizes and impoverishes Spain. And it is especially damaging to the surrounding communities.”

    More Than Just a Rock

    The Spanish outpost was ceded to Britain by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, and has since been governed by Britain as an overseas territory. The Rock, as it is commonly known, is the largest bunkering port in the Mediterranean that also has an unrivalled strategic position, guarding the entrance to the inner European waters.

    Spain, which has long laid claim to the territory, calls for a bilateral agreement over sovereignty. The UK rejects this idea, saying that Gibraltarians must be included in any discussions, but the local residents overwhelmingly voted against Spanish sovereignty in 1967 and joint UK-Spanish authority in 2002.

    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
    © REUTERS / Jon Nazca
    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

    “In order to maintain Gibraltar, the British hide behind the wishes of the Gibraltarian population, which they use as an excuse to refuse to decolonise,” Rosety stated.

    A Future Without Spain

    Gibraltar’s economy is largely based on a mix of lower taxation (a 10-per cent corporate tax rate as against 25 per cent in Spain), online gaming, and the controversial practice of offshore refuelling. It has one of the highest GDPs per capita in the world, which is estimated to exceed $90,000 – almost three times as much as in Spain.

    If the UK leaves the European Union without a deal (which now appears very likely), it would lead to a hard UK-EU border and potentially hamper the movement of around 10,000 Spanish citizens who currently cross the Gibraltar border every day to work in the British enclave.

    Rosety, who sits on the defence committee in the lower house of Spain’s parliament, insisted that Gibraltar’s economy is dependent on Spanish workers being “used as hostages by the Gibraltar government.”

    “Without them, Gibraltar's economy could not survive,” Rosety said. “It is Gibraltar that is dependent on [Spain] and not the other way around, as the threat of Brexit is demonstrating.”

    Jobs aside, the British military also operates a naval base on the much-prized rocky headland, which Rosety said “poses significant risks” to Spanish people, as it can store nuclear weapons and is being used to repair nuclear subs.

    He argued that after Brexit, Madrid could “facilitate the reintegration of Gibraltar into Spain” and force the UK to “renegotiate”.

    “The question is, why now that Brexit arrives, none of the major political parties plan a decisive strategy to recover Gibraltar?” he concluded.

    Brexit Fears Loom Large

    The status of Gibraltar still remains a sensitive issue for Spain-UK relations, especially against the backdrop of Brexit.

    The territory voted by a vast majority of 96 per cent to remain in the European Union, but is still set to leave the bloc in less than 3 months. Local authorities have called for a second referendum over concerns that Brexit would disrupt its close ties with the EU, but Britain’s new prime minister, Boris Johnson, has opposed such proposals and is eager to pull the country out of the EU in line with his ‘do or die’ approach.

    In April, a European parliamentary committee approved a draft law allowing British visitors to stay in the Schengen zone for 90 days without visas, even in the case of a no-deal Brexit. It granted the citizens of Gibraltar and Britain the same rights, but referred to Gibraltar as a British “colony”, despite London’s claims that it is a “full part of the UK family”.

    Josep Borrel, Spain’s foreign minister nominated for the position of EU foreign policy chief, declared a “diplomatic victory” for Spain following the ruling.

    “If Britain leaves the EU, and we still don’t know if it will, then Gibraltar will become part of a third country,” he said, adding that any future deal involving Gibraltar will require Spain’s consent.

    Last November, when London and Brussels were still negotiating a Brexit agreement, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said that the deal was ambiguous on Gibraltar’s future and demanded that the Rock’s status should only be decided bilaterally between Spain and the UK.

    He threatened to withdraw backing for Theresa May’s Brexit deal with the European Union if it did not address Spain’s concerns over the future of Gibraltar, but backtracked on his statement after the UK accepted his demands. Brussels has also endorsed Spain’s position.

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