Spain, good old España, home to the sun and the sea and La Liga, has emerged almost by fluke to be an important player in Brexit. Scotland and Gibraltar and it seems also Ireland are looking towards Madrid anticipating their next moves.
Spain’s moves over the last week have been the talk Europe, at least some of the time.
But let’s rewind.
Last week Scottish MPs voted 69 to 59 in favour of asking Westminster for a second independence referendum.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish First Minister, wrote a formal letter requesting a referendum for late 2018 to early 2019. The SNP’s manifesto promised to seek a second referendum if there was a ‘material change in circumstances’ after the last referendum.
Brexit has re-energised the campaign for Scottish independence after the movement was defeated in the 2014 vote. If Scotland chooses to leave the UK, it will seek to re-join the EU as an independent nation.
But Spain could veto any such move to try to deter nationalist movements within its own borders.
Meanwhile, the sunny Rock in the Mediterranean has been having its own trouble with Spain recently, and not for the first time.
It was perhaps predictable that Spain would attempt to use Brexit to forward its moves to reclaim Gibraltar, but the recent draft guidelines set out by the EU Council saying Madrid could have a say in UK-Brussels talks in the future has angered Gibraltarians.
The Spanish government has been lobbying EU member states to take the Spanish position on Gibraltar. It seems that the EU might side with its member state over the UK, the first state to kick itself out.
For the first time in a long time, Spain holds the cards.
But Spain might not block Scotland re-joining. It emerged today that the country would not ‘initially’ block any move from Scotland to re-join the EU, according to Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis.
“Initially we wouldn’t block it”, he said.
He also said that he did not welcome the fragmentation of European Union member states.
But they have been pushing for more control over Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory which emphatically rejected ‘shared sovereignty’ between Britain and Spain in 2002.
Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo does not seem relaxed about the possibility of Spain having some say in the affairs of his jurisdiction. He discussed the issues facing Gibraltar by phone today with Teresa May.
Even though Gibraltar voted to remain within the EU by 96% (98% voted against shared sovereignty), they are standing by the decision made by England and Wales, and rejecting any moves from Madrid to get involved in their affairs.
An overwhelming majority of people in Gibraltar see the island as British, not Spanish, in the same way most people in Catalonia see themselves as Catalan.
Spain has been landed with unexpected power. It is understandable that they would try to capitalise on the Brexit vote in their own interests. The President of Sinn Fein, a party pushing for special EU status for the North of Ireland, today said: “Spain achieved greater negotiation leverage on issue of Gibraltar with a veto, than Enda Kenny achieved for Ireland.”
This is not Gerry Adams supporting the moves by Spain as much as a criticism of Kenny’s inactivity, but it is hardly a condemnation either. He’s saying the Taoiseach of Ireland should’ve done the same as his Spanish EEP colleagues.
Gibraltar will probably come through this mess intact. For Scotland and the North, we shall wait and see.
For now, all eyes are on España…