The recent rise of the far-right United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which wants the U.K. to leave the European Union (E.U.), has shaken up British politics. Next month’s general election is not at all shaping up to be the usual American-style horse race between the left-of-center Labour Party and right-of-center Conservative Party, with the more lefty Liberal Democratic Party (currently in a coalition government with the Conservatives) as a side show. In last year’s elections to the European Parliament, UKIP became the largest party in the U.K.’s delegation, but the UKIP phenomenon is far from being a flash in the pan, even though the largely toothless European Parliament attracts far more protest votes than the more consequential general elections do: UKIP is actually the third-largest party in the U.K. now. And a further complication is the surge in support for the separatist Scottish National Party (S.N.P.) (at Labour’s expense) after last year’s narrowly defeated independence referendum in Scotland. Next month’s election will have serious geopolitical consequences as no British election in recent memory has.
This means that Conservatives and Labour have to some extent resigned themselves to the groundswell of populist centrifugal forces likely to define the U.K.’s future. Prime Minister David Cameron has already capitulated to UKIP by promising, if he is reelected, to hold a referendum on continued E.U. membership, and during the run-up to the Scottish referendum his government instituted a raft of new powers of self-government, for not only Scotland but Wales and Northern Ireland as well. These developments are convergent: UKIP would also like a more decentralized Britain. But Nigel Farage, UKIP’s bombastic leader, a self-described libertarian, has scoffed at the S.N.P.’s and the Scottish public’s overwhelming desire to stay in the E.U. but leave the U.K. He has called Scottish nationalism a “fraud” which aspires merely to “swap your masters from Westminster to Brussels.” (See article from this blog here and here on the question of whether Scotland could leave Britain but stay in the Union.)
|Nigel Farage—now destroyer of empires, as well?|
The rethinking has already begun in Gibraltar: the territory’s Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, said this week that in the event of a “Brexit”—as the media have dubbed UKIP’s hoped-for secession from the E.U.—Gibraltar would want to stay in the Union. “The only existential threat to our economy,” Picardo told the conservative Daily Telegraph, “is one where we are pulled out of the European Union against our will and denied access to the single market. I think everybody who is serious about the subject, even those whose views I don’t share, talk about retaining access to Europe as a member of the European economic area. I know that there are many in the U.K. who advocate the U.K. moving out of the E.U. who consider themselves to be very good friends of Gibraltar, but they need to understand the economics of this.” Gibraltar is the only overseas U.K. territory that is not in the E.U. (though some far-flung possessions of E.U. member states are in it, notably French Guiana and other French territories like Réunion and Mayotte in the Indian Ocean and Guadeloupe and Martinique in the Caribbean, as well as Spain’s special municipalities of Ceuta and Melilla and its Canary Islands, which are all geographically African).
|These Gibraltar residents don’t care which flag flies over them.|
A quick history review: the Spanish claim go goes back to 1700, when the death of Spain’s childless King Carlos II, left him with no clear successor. Carlos was a member of Austria’s Habsburg dynasty, so the Britain, Prussia, and Portugal wanted the crown to pass to the Austrian kaiser’s son, Archduke Karl—um, I mean, Carlos—while France and Bavaria backed a candidate from France’s royal family, the House of Bourbon. Thus began the War of the Spanish Succession. The Bourbons and their supporters prevailed: the prospective Carlos III stayed Karl and later became Holy Roman Emperor, and a Bourbon sits on the throne in Madrid even today. But the end of the war in 1714 sorted out lots of outstanding territorial squabbles around the world among the European powers: France gave big chunks of Canada to Britain, for example, and Spain lost numerous colonies, including Sicily and what are now the Netherlands and Belgium. Since the British and Spanish were in the midst of a long struggle for naval supremacy, Queen Anne of Great Britain negotiated hard, and successfully, for her consolation prize, Gibraltar, ownership of which meant theoretical control of trade through the narrow passage between the Mediterranean Sea and the open Atlantic.
|No Mediterranean climes for Archduke Karl; he had to settle for this measly job.|
|Cars lined up during one of Spain’s capriciously imposed border delays|
|Brits and Spaniards stare each other down across one of the world’s shortest land borders.|
So, in my opinion, the solution is obvious: Gibraltar can avoid both UKIP’s economically suicidal policies and Spain’s, and stay in the E.U. as well, by joining an independent Catalonia. The two entities do not border each other, but Barcelona is certainly nearer Gibraltar than London is. Catalonia is already a playground for hordes of vacationing Britons. And there is a deep historical tie: the then quasi-independent Catalonia sided with Britain, not the Spanish, in the War of the Spanish Succession. In 1704, over 300 Catalans defended the Rock from the Habsburgs; a local beach is named in their honor. And the king-making Republican Left of Catalonia (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, or E.R.C.) party in Catalonia’s separatist ruling coalition scandalizes mainstream opinion in Spain by refusing to side with Madrid on Gibraltar (as discussed in an article in this blog). (Basque separatists, by contrast, want Spain to reclaim Gibraltar, making them more than a bit hypocritical on the question of whether a referendum on being or not being part of Spain should be binding.)
|For use in case of reconquista: outgoing King Juan Carlos places the sash of Captain General|
of Spain’s royal armed forces on his son and successor, King Felipe VI.