Spain's foreign minister, Alfonso Dastis, appeared to offer a conciliatory tone over Gibraltar in an interview with a Spanish newspaper this week, saying that his government will not use it as a bargaining tool to jeopardise Brexit.
There had been concern that Spain would demand joint sovereignty over Gibraltar as a condition of not blocking deals made between the UK and the EU, especially after the EU granted Spain what amounts to a double veto by saying that no deals which would affect Gibraltar can be done between Britain and the EU after the UK has left unless Spain agrees to them.
The foreign minister stressed that regaining Gibraltar is still very important to the Spanish government, to complete Spain’s ‘territorial integrity’, and he hoped that the people of Gibraltar could be convinced that it is worth exploring the route of joint sovereignty and that it would be beneficial to them as well, but “what I don’t want to do is jeopardise an EU-UK agreement by subjecting it to a need to alter Gibraltar’s status at the same time.... I won’t make an agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom conditional on recovering sovereignty over Gibraltar,” he said.
His words were greeted with caution in Gibraltar. Although in general the change of tone was welcome, especially after the more hostile approach taken by Dastis’s predecessor José Manuel García Margallo, most people still feel very strongly that they wish to remain British.
In two referenda in the past, Gibraltar voted overwhelmingly against any type of Spanish involvement. Chief minister Fabian Picardo said this week that the government would consider holding a third referendum if the need arose, and that he had no doubt what the result would be, despite Brexit and the challenges it poses for Gibraltar.