The king had generally been expected to refer to Gibraltar in his address to the UK Parliament, but there was speculation as to what he would actually say. Some Tory MPs threatened to walk out of the chamber if he tried to claim Gibraltar for Spain, but in the end His Majesty was much more diplomatic.
After referring to Britain and Spain having a long shared history and saying that the two countries had “frequently stood shoulder to shoulder” in the best interests of both nations, Felipe VI said there had been rivalries and disputes during that rich and fruitful history but the work and determination of the governments, authorities and citizens have relegated such events to the past.
“I am certain that this resolve to overcome our differences will be even greater in the case of Gibraltar and I am confident that through the necessary dialogue and effort, our two governments will be able to work towards arrangements that are acceptable to all involved,” he went on to say.
The phrase “our two governments” rang immediate alarm bells in Gibraltar, because it indicated that the government and people of the Rock would have no say in any discussions about their own future.
Gibraltar’s chief minister, Fabian Picardo, was quick to respond: “In the times in which we live, territories cannot be traded from one monarch to another like pawns in a chess game.The concept of human rights and democracy means that the wishes of people must come first, as much of His Majesty the King of Spain’s address to Westminster Hall rightly identified. But those principles are not just abstract ones; they apply to Gibraltar and its people too,” he insisted.
Following the King’s address, a spokesman for the UK government agreed that Britain and Spain have a close relationship but do not see eye to eye on Gibraltar, and reiterated that sovereignty was not up for discussion. “The people of Gibraltar have repeatedly and overwhelmingly expressed their wish to remain under British sovereignty and we will respect this,” he said.
In general, the response to King Felipe’s speech was positive. He paid a glowing tribute to Queen Elizabeth II, and pointed out that the last time the Spanish royal family - on that occasion his parents - made a state visit to the UK it was in 1986, when Spain was joining the EU. With regard to Brexit he called for solutions to give the “necessary confidence and certainty” to Spanish citizens who live in the UK and British citizens in Spain.