Gibraltar's people ought to accept this sensible deal

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The ferocity with which many Gibraltarians will denounce the deal expected to be announced today between Britain and Spain to share sovereignty over the Rock may be a moment of catharsis.

The ferocity with which many Gibraltarians will denounce the deal expected to be announced today between Britain and Spain to share sovereignty over the Rock may be a moment of catharsis. It reflects the understandable feeling of betrayal shared by many other communities left behind by the receding of the red ink from the map of the world. The force of the Gibraltarians' insistence on their Britishness carries echoes of the excessive loyalty to symbols of Britishness demonstrated by the unionists in Northern Ireland.

The truth is that Gibraltar is no longer a necessary or an organic part of the United Kingdom. The illusion that it should be defended from the territorial ambitions of the Spanish as if it were a part of Surrey was encouraged by the decision taken long ago to grant its residents, along with those of the Falkland Islands, full British citizenship.

It was a great injustice that the mostly white Gibraltarians and Falklanders were granted this status while it was denied to the mostly non-white inhabitants of other British overseas territories – an injustice that is only now being righted by a Bill that is currently before Parliament.

While it is right for the British Government to recognise its obligations to the last few remnants of empire, what most Gibraltarians want is not the right to settle in Britain but the right to preserve their distinctive statelet as it is. For that, they do not need British sovereignty – what they really need is good relations with their neighbours and a settled position within the European Union.

Those objectives should be secured by the deal between the British and Spanish governments which the Gibraltarians – no doubt rightly – suspect has already been done.

It may be paternalistic for British ministers or London newspapers to suggest that they understand the true interests of Gibraltarians better than the people do themselves, but the principle of self-determination has to be tempered by some consideration of whether a nation to which a small community pledges its allegiance wants to be on the receiving end of such loyalty.

Provided the agreement ensures that the people of Gibraltar cannot be forced at some future date to accept Spanish rule, the deal seems a sensible compromise. It is to be hoped that, when the Gibraltarians realise that their identity is not threatened after all, their feelings will subside.

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