The status of Gibraltar can only be changed by the territory’s people and by UK citizens, British foreign secretary Boris Johnson said on Monday as the enclave became an issue in Brexit negotiations.
Boris Johnson said Gibraltar’s sovereignty “is not going to change and cannot conceivably change without the express support and consent of the people of Gibraltar and the United Kingdom.”
He spoke in Luxembourg where EU foreign ministers are meeting. Britain’s departure from the European Union, likely in 2019, is not on the meeting’s agenda.
Spanish foreign minister Alfonso Dastis told El Pais newspaper that Madrid insists it should get a veto over any agreements regarding the strategic enclave on Spain’s southern tip.
The EU’s roadmap on Brexit negotiations leaves the United Kingdom and Spain to discuss what agreements will apply to Gibraltar, a British overseas territory that Spain has wanted back since ceding it more than three centuries ago.
This could force a dialogue in which Madrid might have the upper hand, although the Spanish government has said that it will ensure an open border for European workers that are key to both Gibraltar and the neighbouring area in southern Spain.
Gibraltar has a population of 32,000, and about 96% of residents voted to remain in the EU last year.
Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders called for calm, saying that the Brexit divorce is already difficult enough. “Let’s be cool and carry on, and not use too harsh language, I would say. Let’s just negotiate. I think that’s the most important,” he said.