Britain and Gibraltar reacted with fury to a European Council document published today that described the British overseas territory as a colony.
The document, laying out proposals to give British nationals short-stay, visa-free access to the EU’s borderless Schengen area after Brexit, contained the description in a footnote.
‘It is completely unacceptable to describe Gibraltar in this way,’ British Prime Minister Theresa May‘s spokesman told reporters.
‘Gibraltar is a full part of the UK family and this will not change due to our exit from the EU,’ he said.
Gibraltar, home to 33,000 people, was ceded to Britain by Spain in 1713, in perpetuity.
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The seven square-kilometre peninsula is an internally self-governing British overseas territory.
Its government expressed anger over the EU’s description, saying the ‘legal status of Gibraltar is not a matter of argument, it is a matter of fact’.
‘The use of such language, were it to materialise in the final documents, does not assist the creation a climate of understanding and trust between Gibraltar and Spain as we prepare to leave the EU,’ it added.
‘It is, in any case, totally irrelevant to our departure from the European Union and says more about Spain’s anachronistic obsession with Gibraltar than it does about anything else.
‘This is totally out of place in the modern Europe of today.’
Sharing a 1.2km fenced border with Spain, the implications of Brexit on Gibraltar have formed part of Britain’s divorce talks with the European Union.
‘Gibraltar is a colony of the British crown,’ the European Council document said in a starred footnote.
‘There is a controversy between Spain and the United Kingdom concerning the sovereignty over Gibraltar, a territory for which a solution has to be reached in light of the relevant resolutions and decisions of the General Assembly of the United Nations.’
In a 2002 referendum on whether Britain and Spain should share sovereignty over Gibraltar, 99% of voters said no.
‘Is this another referendum result the EU is trying to overturn?’ Daniel Dalton, a British Conservative member of the European Parliament, said on Friday.
In the 2016 referendum on Britain’s EU membership, Gibraltar had the highest pro-Remain vote, at 96%.
The draft divorce deal between London and Brussels – rejected by British MPs – sought to defuse any future tensions over Gibraltar when Britain leaves the EU on 29 March.
The deal provides for Spanish-British cooperation on citizens’ rights, tobacco and other products, environment, police and customs matters.
It sets the basis for administrative cooperation for achieving full transparency in tax matters, fighting fraud, smuggling and money laundering