Gibraltar sovereignty struggle: UK shoots itself in the foot

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The UK has occupied Gibraltar since 1713 but Spain's efforts to reclaim its territory has intensified in recent months

Britain’s illegal seizure of an oil tanker carrying Iranian crude oil off the Spanish coast is proving to be a costly mistake for London. Britain may have hoped to strike a tactical gain by seizing the tanker but it may end up suffering a strategic setback.

Spain’s acting foreign minister, Josep Borrell, effectively threw the gauntlet at the UK by questioning the legality of Britain’s move against the Iranian super-taker, Grace 1.

“We are studying the circumstances and looking at how this affects our sovereignty”, Borrell said. Mr Borrell also cast doubt on Britain’s claim to be enforcing EU sanctions on Syria, by asserting that the British action had been prompted by an American order.

Mr. Borrell’s intervention is significant, not because of his current role as Spanish foreign minister, but more so due to the fact that he is set to succeed Frederica Mogherini as the EU’s foreign policy chief.

Mr. Borrell is not only a strong advocate of the restoration of Spanish sovereignty, but equally important, he dissents from the UK and US position on core Middle Eastern issues.

In recent years Britain has resorted to all manner of tricks to break Gibraltar’s isolation, even resorting to sports competitions to consolidate its claim over the Spanish territory.

Gibraltar, for example, is currently hosting the International Island Games, an odd state of affairs in view of the fact that the territory is not even an island.

Even the New York Times alludes to this anomaly in its July 7th edition, and views it as a British attempt to defend the territory’s “identity” in the face of Spanish attempts to retake its land from the UK.

Analysts expect the latest row between Spain and Britain to escalate, on account of the latter’s refusal to quickly release the Iranian tanker. Even before the tanker incident, the Spanish foreign ministry had gone on the offensive on Gibraltar by branding the UK occupation as "illegal" before the United Nations.

The UK set out to inflame tensions in the Persian Gulf by enforcing unilateral US sanctions on Iran. But instead it has inflamed tensions much closer to home with traditional rival Spain.

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