First the good news if you’re resident in Gibraltar and want to stay British; neither Labour nor the Conservatives are making noises about being less than committed to you. Whether the new Government is Labour-led minority, Conservative-led coalition as we’ve seen for the last five years or some other hybrid as yet unimagined, Gibraltar’s status should be beyond doubt.
The parties haven’t always been so transparent. Some people will recall the then Home Secretary Jack Straw’s so-called Andorra Solution mooted in 2002, under which the UK and Spain would have had joint sovereignty; this was rejected comprehensively by a Gib referendum, and if anybody’s thinking of suggesting anything like it again, they’re not saying so out loud. Currently Labour’s funders are suggesting Gibraltarians can sleep easy, although there is no mention of it in the party’s manifesto. The Conservatives, by contrast, suggest they will protect the democratic rights of Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands and encourage them to remain British for “as long as they wish”. UKIP’s manifesto is strongly in favour of other countries being urged to respect the Rock’s Britishness,
That said, some issues have emerged that could change the current status, not because of any wish to change but because of what happens outside the Rock. The first might actually strengthen Gibraltar as a British territory: if the SNP wins the expected landslide in Scotland then the moral if not constitutional case for moving trident will become unarguable. According to reports published in the Daily Express and RT, Gibraltar is among the options under consideration should there be a move. Arguments over whether Trident should be scrapped aside (and no major party is suggesting this), it would be inconceivable to suggest Britain would be any more amenable to Spain’s entreaties to abandon the Rock if its nuclear deterrent were to be based on it.
The SNP also has a walk-on part in the second scenario that could spell change. Although the Conservative assurances of sovereignty are likely to be welcomed in the territory, the promise of an in-out referendum on Europe should the same party get a simple majority is less so (and if UKIP holds any sway then the referendum is increasingly likely).
As our article from Dominique Searle pointed out only weeks ago, Gibraltar joined the EU at the same time as the UK in the same referendum. If the UK decides to pull out in 2017 then Gibraltar comes out. Should that happen it’s almost certain to reapply or do whatever it has to do to stay in; in an article from The Trumpet in mid-April, chief minister Fabian Picardo is quoted as saying “[If] one part of the UK decides that it wants out of the European Union, then the negotiations should involve each of the separate parts being able to remain with a different degree of membership.”
Gibraltar wants to stay in the EU even if the rest of the UK left. This scenario could involve another major change as the SNP would almost certainly claim Scotland wanted to remain involved in Europe, too. There has been a great deal of speculation that if the UK did pull out this would precipitate a second referendum on Scotland’s relationship with the Union in which it might well becom independent. It’s early to be discussing the effect a break-up of the Union would have on outlying territories, but we could be looking at a European Gibraltar regarding itself as British while Britain is no longer European – and no longer the Britain it was because of the absence of Scotland. The only certainty would be uncertainty.
Within a couple of weeks, depending on the length of the horse trading, we’ll have an idea of at least the starting point for the next five years. With a hung Parliament the most likely outcome and a referendum a distinct possibility, the fact that both main parties have stated support for a British Gibraltar doesn’t leave the way as unambiguous as might have been hoped.