Just days after the UK started the Brexit procedure, there's a huge scandal brewing over Gibraltar's future. This British overseas territory, carved off the Spanish coast, will have the full support of the British government, PM Theresa May has vowed. The UK has promised to seek the "best possible scenario" from the Brexit negotiations, and this obviously includes Gibraltar. Since most Gibraltarians voted against the Brexit, this has prompted the EU (mostly Spain) to make bold statements about possible plans of granting a special status to residents of the rock when it comes to EU/UK relations. Which of course was seen as a provocation in London, and drew the predicted hostile reaction. Ms May said Britain wouldn't allow Gibraltar to pass under control from another country, seeing blatant territorial claims from Spain.
By the way, this is the entire territory of Gibraltar:
As you can see, it's just a rock. But it holds great symbolic significance (once it may've been strategically important, mind you). It's located in the narrow straits between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. The 1713 Utrecht Treaty stipulated that Spain would give that rock to Britain. But Spain has sought to get it back ever since. Up till now, the EU used to be a buffer between the claims of the two countries. But now that the UK is going its own way, Spain has felt it needs to step in and act. And the UK is not willing to budge even one bit, so they're beating the war drums. The ruling Tories are rallying patriotic sentiment at home, while Labour are warning against further inflaming the situation. The Liberals are also urging for caution. After all, rattling sabres just a few days after the Brexit procedure was started, would not be very helpful for Britain in the upcoming negotiations. Spain knows this, of course. And they're emboldened. But how realistic are their expectations?
The thing is, Spain will be having a right of veto on all issues concerning Gibraltar during the Brexit negotiations, according to EU's draft list of positions in that dialogue. Both London and Gibraltar itself sharply criticized the document, while Madrid was naturally very happy.
Fabian Piccardo, the governor of Gibraltar, is saying The Rock shouldn't become hostage in these negotiations. He also warned that the draft EU plan would create conditions for discrimination against Gibraltarians. UK foreign minister Boris Johnson has also pledged full support for Gibraltar. All in all, the UK sounds very belligerent.
In turn, the Spanish foreign minister has said his country has no intention to shut the border with Gibraltar after the Brexit, citing the fact that all those Spaniards working at The Rock but living elsewhere should retain their freedom of movement.
The disputed EU plan literally says that as soon as Britain leaves the Union, not a single agreement between EU and UK would be applicable on the territory of Gibraltar without a bilateral agreement between Spain and Britain. Sure, that project is yet to be discussed and confirmed. The first top-ranking meeting of the EU countries (now without UK) is scheduled for the end of this month, and the project will be a central issue in planning the Brexit negotiations.
Like I said, Gibraltar's strategic significance may've waned in recent years, at least in a military sense. Nowadays it's mostly a tourist destination. Nearly 10 million tourists visit The Rock every year. Its population is just 32 thousand, but the low tax rates attract lots of financial institutions, insurance companies and online betting services. There was a referendum in 2002, and an unanimous 99% voted in favor of staying part of the UK. On the other hand, 96% voted against the Brexit last year, so the discrepancy between London's policies and Gibraltar's interests will remain there to stay, and probably deepen as the Brexit looms closer.